MPR News Ground Level reporter Jennifer Vogel writes from International Falls:
58-year-old Fred Rusch, who has worked at the Boise paper mill for almost 37 years, stood next to a cement pillar and a table holding two retirement party sheet-cakes. Both are frosted with Harley-Davidson logos, matching his t-shirt and reflecting his longtime enthusiasm for motorcycles. Until yesterday, Rusch worked the pulp end of paper machine number two, which will be shuttered on Monday as part of a massive layoff that will cost 265 workers their jobs. His eyes were moist as co-workers approached carrying fat slices of cake, some putting their hands on his shoulder and wishing him well.
“People ask what I am going to do,” Rusch said. “I say, ‘whatever I want.’” After so many years, it will be a big change, not coming to the mill in the morning. “But the nicest thing is I won’t have to work the night shift ever again,” he said. “I will no longer have to get up at 4:30 to go to work.” Instead, he plans to ride his motorcycle more and visit his girlfriend, who lives in Alabama.
What exactly hundreds of laid-off Boise employees—including those who accepted early retirement packages like Rusch—will do now is the topic of much discussion here. International Falls, a city of 6,400 on the Canadian border, is surrounded by natural beauty, such as Rainy Lake and Voyageurs National Park, but it doesn’t offer a lot of high-paying jobs outside the mill. Mayor Bob Anderson and others have formed citizen committees to brainstorm ideas for job creation and retention, and also to diversify the local economy.
Today’s Question: What would you do if you lost your job tomorrow?