Welco Lumber closes doors today

BONNERS FERRY — Thursday is the last day of work for most of Welco Lumber Co.’s 93 employees.

“We’ll be out of logs this Thursday evening,” plant manager Rob Harrison said Monday.

Only 20 workers will remain at the Naples mill, which will be put into a “mothball” state, Harrison said. The last day for those maintenance employees, clerical staff and the office manager will be Dec. 11.

“It’s a tough day for the community,” Harrison said. “These are many living-rate jobs. It’s tough for a family of four (to have the main wager earner) go to McDonald’s or retail at minimum wage.”

Welco in October announced it would close, eliminating jobs that paid between $10.46 and $25.44 an hour plus benefits; the average employee was paid $15.05 an hour. The layoff is expected to boost Boundary County’s unemployment rate to 20 percent, the highest among Idaho’s 44 counties.

The decision is, in large part, a result of weak demand for fencing products brought on by the sluggish housing market.

Welco quit buying logs after announcing the closure.

Employees who remained on until the mill closed were told they would receive a severance. Only one worker has left, Harrison said.

The severance will be one week’s pay for every year of employment up to four years or a minimum of $1,000.

Employees will qualify for unemployment compensation, which normally lasts six months. The length of time for some Welco workers could vary.

“A lot of folks have been up and down and already used some of their time on claims that they have,” Harrison said.

Primarily maintenance workers will remain through Dec. 11.

“They will go through and grease things to put them to bed so it doesn’t rust,” Harrison said. “We will clean out the motors and do everything that needs to be done so the equipment is ready to start up again.”

A spokesman for Welco, which is based in Shelton, Wash., has said in October the mill’s reopening is unlikely.

Harrison said he thinks the mood of employees has been “pretty good.”

“A lot of these folks have been with us a long time,” he said.

Harrison has not heard of any Welco employee who has gotten a new job, however, there are some who plan to participate in government-funded programs for retraining and education.

“It’s a sad thing,” he said about the mill, which Welco has owned for 17 years. “It’s sad for the community and it’s sad for the folks who work here. It’s unfortunate, but we’ve lasted longer than a lot of sawmills.”

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