Hundreds of millworkers idled again — or still

More than 200 Clallam County forest products mill workers won’t have a job to go to this week.

Portac Inc.’s Beaver mill will be down, Interfor Pacific Inc. will run at half-staff, and the KPly Inc. mill apparently still is foundering as its 132 workers consider their options.

Portac’s Beaver mill, and its 54 employees, will be idled for the next two weeks, said Terry Mathern, personnel administrator at Portac’s Tacoma headquarters.

The company’s Forks planer mill, and its 55 employees, will produce this week, but go down for the following two weeks, he said.

Both mills operated last week, after having been shut for a week.

The on-again, off-again nature of the business is hard on workers, who are on unemployment when the mills don’t run.

“It’s bad, all right,” said Mathern, who was busy on Friday helping to shut down his company’s Tacoma mill.

He blames federal policies — and politicians who “don’t want to support this industry” — for driving up the cost of lumber.

“I get tired of politicians dictating to working people how they’re going to live, whether they are going to have jobs tomorrow or not.”

The inventory of the Tacoma mill, which once employed 140 people, is being liquidated, and the remaining 72 workers are on permanent layoff.

“We secured some TAA [federal Trade Adjustment Assistance] benefits to help them get out of the industry,” by being retrained for some other type of work, Mathern said.

“It is a dying industry.

“I’d caution anybody going into wood products, and I’ve been in it a long time, since 1972.”

“I’ve seen a lot of mills going down permanently like this one in Tacoma just did,” he said.

“I’ve got a lot of bitterness.”

The composite framing lumber price — a weighted average of 15 key framing lumber prices — has remained at $238 per 1,000 board feet for the last two weeks, said Eugene, Ore.-based Random Lengths.

That was down from $241 for the week ending March 7 and from $283 a year ago, the industry analyst said.

“Market prices are too low,” Mathern said.

“It’s just not conducive trying to run, with log prices so high.”

He said housing starts would more than likely pick up when the weather is more suitable for construction.

But he doesn’t have a prediction as to when that improvement might be seen.

If Mathern, like those he helped get federal benefits, has to begin a different career, what would he do?

“I might become a politician,” he said.

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