Monday was last day for most match mill employees


The majority of employees at Jarden Home Brands found out Friday that their last day would be Monday.

"It's over," said United Steelworkers Local 970 Union President Steve Petoletti Monday evening. "Everyone in our union is done."

The Cloquet plant produces Diamond matches, toothpicks and firestarters, a product line that Newell sold in April to Georgia-based Royal Oak Enterprises LLC. The new owners of the brand bought the Diamond Brand product line and the equipment, but decided not to take the more than 100-year-old Cloquet facility as part of the deal. They announced in May the plant would close sometime in 2017.

On Tuesday morning, more than 40 of the 65 USW members gathered upstairs at the Cloquet Labor Temple to learn about what could happen next. A group of Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency (AEOA) employment counselors and a MNsure (insurance) navigator sat at one side of the room, while members of the "dislocated workers committee" sat in a row at the front of the room, facing their fellow employees.

Cloquet Workforce Center director (and AEOA supervisor) Cindy Slater explained to the former match mill employees gathered there that the counselors were there to help them connect with as many programs as possible to find a new job, go back to school or gain new skills.

She gestured at a stack of booklets and folders containing information on resume writing, training programs, enrolling in health insurance through MNsure, career planning and more.

"You're dislocated workers," said Amanda Reese, an employment and training counselor from Grand Rapids. "There's a lot available for you."

The mood in the room was more nervous than anything. Some had questions, others just seemed like they were still taking it all in. When MNsure navigator Sue Miles talked about the different insurance programs available — including the negotiated deal that workers can continue with their company insurance through the COBRA program, paying only their usual portion — it only seemed to muddy the water.

"It's very confusing," said Denise Couillard. "After 30 years at a place, it's overwhelming. And health insurance is a huge thing. It's the biggest thing."

Although employees had known since May that the mill was going to close, they didn't have a firm date, Couillard said, and couldn't really apply for much until their jobs ended. Now they will get one more full paycheck, then vacation pay and severance pay, so while they won't be without money, they also don't know what their "earnings" will be for the year yet, which makes it difficult to apply for all the different programs.

A handful of longtime match department employees sat in the table behind her, wondering where they were going to work next, what to do about insurance, and what exactly the future might hold for them. A 32-year employee of the mill who started working there right out of high school, Tina Randa talked about not only losing her job, but also being separated from her coworkers, who are more like family to her.

"I don't know where to start," said Randa. "I'm lost. We're in limbo."

Into the most serious moments, crept laughter, showing how close these coworkers are.

"I think we should all go to college and get a dorm together," Lana Sibik injected, bringing smiles to the faces of the women sitting together at the table.

Angela Franzen is one of the chairpeople for the dislocated workers committee, and had worked at Jarden a little over four years as an inspector of matches and toothpicks. Franzen said it's been tough. She found one day that she was going to lose her job, and her father, Henry Franzen, died the next day.

"It's been a very hard time," she said. "I think I'm still a little bit in denial."

She said she volunteered for the committee because, as she moved between the departments, people were always asking her questions after the mill shutdown was announced earlier this year.

"I know several co-workers have gotten jobs, and others who have been in the job so long, they're kind of scared to start this whole process over again, but they're not quite old enough to retire."

Franzen was carefully optimistic Tuesday morning, and said she was going to miss her friendly workplace, but excited to take a job aptitude test and find out what the future could hold for her.

"I have so many interests and a lot of knowledge about a lot of different things," she said. "I think this (meeting) will definitely help."

Approximately 20 other employees in the boiler house at Jarden remain on the job, Petoletti said, speculating that those employees likely have about two weeks of work remaining.