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Flambeau River Papers

Wisconsin pulp and paper mill Flambeau River Papers and the town of Park Falls, WI, are surviving the recession thanks to the company’s good relationship with its workers’ union. Entrepreneur Butch Johnson bought the shuttered paper mill that had employed 300 of the town’s 2,700 residents, after the mill was driven to bankruptcy in 2006 by the high cost of natural gas. Johnson not only re-hired nearly all of the mill’s workers, but honored their existing union contract, including wages, benefits, and seniority. While he initially had reservations about working with unions, Johnson now recognizes the union as “an integral part of the success of the company.”

In fact, the labor-management partnership developed a pioneering biomass energy project to address high energy costs, a problem which threatens the entire domestic paper industry. The company’s planned biorefinery will turn wood byproducts—such as tree tops, branches, and sawmill waste—into green diesel and wax, all while producing steam to power its existing paper mill. By 2012, Flambeau will be the first pulp and paper mill in North America to be fossil fuel free. The union and the company worked together to secure funding for the project from the U.S. Department of Energy. This innovative partnership is keeping Flambeau in business, producing high-quality recycled paper with less energy and fewer costs.

Industry: Paper
Headquarters: Park Falls, WI
Union: United Steelworkers
Union Employees: 253 production and maintenance workers
Total Employees: 313 

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