Credit Unions Help Washington Lumber Community Endure Job Losses

Three credit unions rallied to the aid of the Shelton, Washington community after it was announced that hundreds of lumber mill employees would soon lose their jobs. Simpson Lumber Company announced that two nearby mills would close by the end of June as part of an asset sale to Sierra Pacific Industries of Redding, California, resulting in the loss of 270 jobs.

This news came shortly after it was announced that Olympic Panel Products, a plywood manufacturer that employs over 200 people in the Shelton area, was sold to a Springfield, Oregon company, and that all operations would move to Oregon no later than early 2016.

The result is the impending loss of about 500 jobs in the Shelton area, a city of less than 10,000 people.

Upon hearing the news, Peninsula Credit Union President and CEO Jim Morrell contacted the Shelton Mason Chamber of Commerce and suggested a community resource fair, in which local credit unions, non-profits, businesses, and government offices could support the outgoing mill employees in their transition.

“Any time people go through financial transitions or life transitions, we want to be a trusted resource for members of the community,” said Morrell. “For those of us in the cooperative world, we know that community is critical aspect to our underlying cooperative principles.”

The two other credit unions in the community—Our Community Credit Union (OCCU) and Kitsap Credit Union—threw their support behind the event as well.

“Our Community Credit Union was originally chartered in December of 1941 as Simpson Employees Credit Union, so we go way, way back with the Simpson employees,” said OCCU CEO Bert Fisher. “The community’s hurting. I think probably the biggest things we can offer right now are hope and information. Because through gaining that knowledge they’re going to find the capacity and the strength to reinvent themselves, which is truly what it’s all about.”

On May 27, the three credit unions and nearly 50 other organizations—including WorkSource Mason County and the Timberland Regional Library—gathered in the Mason Transit Community Center in Shelton to offer their support. Mill employees came between shifts to explore their options. Nearly 200 community members attended the event.

“Kitsap Credit Union was founded within the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, so we have focused on local working families for many, many years,” said Katie Hopkins, branch manager for Kitsap Credit Union’s Belfair branch. “We’re here today to provide community members with information and resources to help them with their financial future as they navigate this challenging time.”

Fisher pointed out that the effects of the layoffs would be felt around the community. “We’ll see a direct effect of 400-500 employees, many of whom are members of our credit union or other financial institutions in town,” he said. “And then there’s also the indirect effect, of people who aren’t getting their hair cut anymore or they may not be shopping as much at Fred Meyers or going out to the local eateries.”
Congressman Denny Heck addressed those facing layoffs, striking chords of community and hope.

“The worst curveball a community can get thrown is when we’re facing the scale of layoffs and unemployment that we’re going to experience here in Mason County,” said Congressman Heck. “Today is a spectacular example of helping with the short term. That’s the transition phase. That’s how we are going to help our family and friends and neighbors in the immediate. For everyone sitting behind a table in this building, thank you.”

He went on to say that, in the long term, the country needed a more robust economy and better job creation.

He then shared that, before taking the stage, he had spoken with a table of six employees facing layoffs. “Five of the six of them were already planning to go back to school, and they knew what they were going to study,” he said. “They seek for themselves a brighter future.”

The Congressman added, “I leave here today with an incredible sense of optimism and hope.”

Questions about this story? Contact James Pearson: 206.340.4790, jpearson@nwcua.org.

Posted in NWCUA.