Bemis Co. Inc. of Neenah, Wis., has closed its flexible packaging plant in Denmark, Wis., as officials follow through on a consolidation plan announced Jan. 25.
The manufacturing site was part of Bemis' purchase of Milprint Inc. in 1990. The closing will affect 124 workers.
Officials informed employees Feb. 6 that the plant would close, but city and union officials were unhappy with the way it was handled, especially in light of aggressive incentives granted to the company during the past several years.
For instance, under a grant Bemis was given by the state Department of Commerce two years ago, the company was to retain the jobs for three years.
Compounding matters further, the village of Denmark sold the plant's 6-acre site to Bemis for $1 last year after leasing the land for 15 years to help Bemis avoid property taxes.
``That's why everyone here was surprised,'' said Gordon Ellis, village administrator, in a Feb. 9 telephone interview. ``When the company was in need, the community responded. The whole idea was to give them an additional break. We really went out of our way to work with them to make this a successful venture.''
The United Steelworkers of America represented 92 workers at the plant, said Jon Geenen, the union's district director.
After the company consolidated a few years ago, the workers agreed to deep wage and vacation concessions.
``These employees shared in a lot of pain, and as a result thought they could share in some of the success of the company,'' Geenen said.
``There have been a number of times the employees have stepped up to the plate. For them to come to work on a Monday morning and have doors shut and be told, `Your career's over here,' it's simply unconscionable.''
Geenen said the union never had a chance to talk with company officials to see if there was any other way to curtail costs.
``We are not certain why the company targeted this facility for shutdown,'' he said. ``The company's behavior is perplexing. We attempted to have a discussion with them yesterday. The company is taking a callous attitude for how they're going to handle severance and health-care benefits.''
Bemis spokeswoman Melanie Miller said Denmark is one of the company's smaller plants. Most of its production will be moved to Lancaster, Wis. Large Bemis plants have the space to take on additional capacity.
``It's not an issue that we're building the plant somewhere else because we don't like the location,'' she said.
As for the timing of how the city and employees were informed of the closing, Miller said, ``We think it's most appropriate to inform employees first. That's the approach we took. We informed employees on Monday morning and began the transition of production immediately.''
The firm said it will offer career services to employees. It plans to sell the land and building.