Originally created 10/25/02

Mill puts limits on severance pay



ST. MARYS, Ga. - At least 500 workers at Durango-Georgia Paper Co. will not receive severance pay when the south Georgia mill closes Nov. 15, a company manager said Wednesday.

Kenneth Bertram, the executive vice president and general manager of the mill, said language in contracts for St. Marys Railroad employees and machinists union workers make them eligible, but all other employees will not receive severance pay.

Durango-Georgia has been one of the largest employers in Camden County since 1941, and more than 900 workers are expected to lose their jobs next month.

Mr. Bertram said wording in the contract was specific about which workers would receive severance.

"What it comes down to is what does the contract say," Mr. Bertram said. "It's pretty clear."

Most of the mill employees are no longer working at the mill; paper production stopped Oct. 11. Employees will receive paychecks until the mill closes.

Camden County Commission Chairman Steve Berry expressed disappointment about the company's decision.

"It seems to me that a multibillion-dollar company should not have to hide behind the words in a contract, regardless of what that contract may or may not say," Mr. Berry said. "They should be doing something for their workers to ease their pain."

The mill was once part of Gilman Paper Co., then the largest privately held paper and building-products company in the nation. Company owner Howard Gilman died of a heart attack in 1998, and the company was sold a year later to Mexico-based Corporacion Durango.

Gilman Paper employed thousands of workers in towns such as St. Marys and owned huge swaths of timberland. Mr. Gilman was a philanthropist known for supporting the arts and helping endangered animals.