Kirk Smith says this time, he’s worried.

The Bemis Co. employee and current president of Unite Here Local 1426 said Wednesday evening that 63 positions would be “permanently reduced” from the plant as early as this weekend.

According to Smith, these cuts are in addition to voluntary layoffs offered earlier in October.

“This is the first time I’ve been scared,” the 11-1/2-year employee said. “I wonder if this place will be here in 10 years.”

Melanie Miller, vice president and treasurer of Bemis at corporate headquarters in Neenah, Wis., said she would not speak directly to individual plant layoffs but reaffirmed her statements made earlier in October that the entire North American division might undergo some transformation because of lower third-quarter profits.

Nationally, consumers seem to be spending less at the grocery stores and on other products Bemis makes, she said.

The Terre Haute facility produces packaging materials, overwraps for bottled water, frozen food packaging and other consumer goods.

This slowdown is hoped to be temporary, she said.

When asked if the rising cost of gasoline and groceries is driving down consumer spending, Miller said, “I think so.”

Real estate market fears also are “making people feel less wealthy,” she said, noting that all these issues add up to one big bite out of consumer spending, thus less revenue for Bemis.

But Miller also said these decisions are being made plant by plant and can change in the other direction depending on business.

“We don’t generally have these kind of slowdowns,” she said, adding that if the market were to pick back up, workers might be called back and positions re-added.

Smith, however, said he and other workers are still very concerned and even “in shock.”

“We’ve seen seasonal slowdowns for the last five or six years. Why wouldn’t management try to develop new product lines?”

Smith said about 842 of the nearly 1,000 Terre Haute Bemis employees are union, and added that “company” positions are in jeopardy as well.

The union plans to prepare Thanksgiving baskets and take up donations for affected employees, as the cuts could very well take effect this weekend.

Rod Henry, president of the Greater Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce, declined to comment on the community impact of the Chamber member’s layoffs until he had more information.

Brian Boyce can be reached at (812) 231-4253 or brian.boyce@tribstar.com.

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