By Debra Smith Herald Writer
In this series, we’re telling the stories of what the Kimberly-Clark mill closure means for workers and for Everett, which has been defined by mills for more than a century.
Jayne DeWitt knows something about surviving a mill closure. She’s already gone through it once when her first employer, Georgia-Pacific West pulp mill, closed in Bellingham.
Now she’s in that position again with the planned closure of the Kimberly-Clark mills.
“It’s sad to see what’s going on with the industry in this country,” she said. “It’s all going overseas.”
When she started work in Bellingham in 1974, women were just starting to work in significant numbers at the mill. One of her first jobs was in the chlorine plant.
“It was awkward,” she said. “The men were reluctant to have a woman in there.”
One colleague was particularly vocal about it, concerned if something went wrong she wouldn’t be able to pull her weight. That changed when a cart fell on his leg, and she was the one who unpinned him.
DeWitt came to work in Everett in 2004. She worked in the converting area, the last stop on the line that produced paper Viva towels and Shop towels.
She owns a home in Bellingham, so she drove 136 miles roundtrip every day.
“The only place I could find good pay was in Everett,” she said.
At Kimberly-Clark, she ran the machine that packed the paper towels into boxes. She made sure the machine had enough boxes and if it jammed, she had to fix it herself. She also kept an eye out for any defective rolls that need to be pulled off the line. It was repetitive but also challenging.
When she needed a change, she moved into a position where she tried to make the workplace safer. She was proud when the mill reached a million hours of work performed safely.
“I tried to change that mindset,” she said. “People can think, ‘I don’t have to get hurt when I come to work.’”
She’s now one of the handful of Kimberly-Clark workers given temporary work helping their colleagues find other employment.
Some are finding other jobs, she said. Many are experiencing how tough the job market is firsthand.
“I’m starting to hear people say things like, ‘I didn’t know it would be so hard to find another job,’” she said.
Some are moving in search of decent wages to work at mills at Oregon and Kentucky.
“It’s difficult,” she said. “It’s hard on families.”