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Match mill end in sight

It seems the City of Wood will say farewell to one of its oldest wood-based industries by the end of summer.

Steve Petoletti, president of the United Steelworkers Local 970 union at the Jarden Brands mill in Cloquet, said Newell Brands gave a date range between July 28 and Aug. 11 as the ending time for most of the jobs there. The company extended those dates in a couple of areas, including the Strike-A-Fire line, which may continue operating as late as Aug. 31 and employs about 20 people, Petoletti said.

A total of 85 employees will lose their jobs when the mill shuts down.

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.

Newell announced May 1 that the Cloquet facility would close and initially predicted the plant would remain open four to six months.

Since then, the Jarden Brands plant went to a more intense three-shift operation "to try to phase all the product out," said Petoletti, and shortened the estimated timeline.

"They got more orders than anticipated," he said. "So in some cases, they're moving people around until materials come in."

Employees were cautioned at a union meeting in May to keep a watchful eye on each other, in case the stress of looming unemployment or forced retirement pushes a person to the breaking point.

"Management and staff are under the same stresses, but we've been working together," Petoletti said. "People are still working and making product."

USW members voted June 30 to accept a final bargaining proposal from the company, which gave additional benefits, Petoletti said. Instead of two additional months of insurance, workers will get four months. Those with the hours to qualify will be paid 100 percent of their 2018 vacation and others will be prorated according to hours.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development will be holding two days worth of meetings with staff and management on July 12-13, to let people know how they can get help through the state's dislocated worker program.

The original Diamond Match Company building was built in 1905 but closed three years later. Diamond Match came back to Cloquet and took over the Berst-Forster-Dixfield match mill in 1928-1929. At one time, Cloquet was the largest manufacturer of wood matches in the United States. At its peak, there were about 600 people employed at Cloquet's Diamond match mill.

Mergers saw the name change. Diamond Match became Diamond Gardner, Diamond National and Diamond International. Jarden Home Brands bought the company out of bankruptcy in 2003 and continued to offer three Diamond products: toothpicks, kitchen matches and penny matches, as well as new products such as colored toothpicks and long-reach matches. Then Newell purchased Jarden last spring.

Some people have toured the building, but Petoletti hasn't heard if anyone has expressed an interest in purchasing the facility, which has 350,000 square feet and sits on 38 acres of land along Cloquet Avenue.