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Cascades helps drivers ‘keep on trucking’

Originally written for TAPPI AOTC Newsletter

Cascades manufactures products that play an essential role in the day-to-day lives of families and the supply chains of its customers. Through the recovery and recycling activities, the hygiene products and packaging enable food and many other essential goods to be shipped, protected and preserved.

When COVID-19 first appeared in North America, several US states and Canadian provinces took steps to restrict the activities of certain businesses and organizations in order to contain the spread of the virus. Yet operations run by Cascades, which manufactures hygiene products and packaging, were on a list of exceptions; the company’s mills and plants were deemed "essential" or "necessary to sustain life." As a result, Cascades continued to operate to meet its commitments to customers, partners and community.

As the pandemic began to take hold, Cascades’ plant managers were holding virtual meeting every day to discuss COVID-19 preventive and responsive measures. Quickly, one repeated topic was the impact this crisis was having on the work of truck drivers. The over-the-road truck drivers, who form a critical part of the manufacturing supply chain, felt forgotten. The closure of service centers, roadside restaurants, and other facilities had resulted in truck drivers having limited access to food, washrooms, and other necessities.

Cascades Tissue Group President, Jean-David Tardif, sent out an email asking how Cascades plants could make it easier for truck drivers. Doors had always been open for truck drivers, who were used to walking into any office; yet when the pandemic hit, the protection of employees against the virus became the top priority, so that changed. After Tardif’s email, Cascades committed to help truck drivers.

David Walsh, plant manager for Cascades Tissue Group facility in Pittston, PA, was first to come up with a solution for truck drivers in that area. The Pittston plant converts parent rolls from Cascades’ nearby mill in Ransom, PA, into private-label tissue products such as toilet paper, paper towels, and facial tissue. They then ship the product directly to distribution centers to service several major grocery accounts.

“My plant really got ahead of it, being in the Northeast, which was hit first,” says Walsh. “When our division president asked how we could help truck drivers, I mentioned it to some people on our staff, including the manager of our outside warehouse, who has been in the trucking business his entire career. We thought, ‘we’ve got to get on board!’” Walsh says.

First, the plant added portable toilets outside the plant, because truck drivers were no longer able to access the plant washrooms. Then someone suggested that the drivers might enjoy some snacks. Several members of the Cascades Pittston staff—Allen Culp, Kathy Bickert, and Brenda Walsh (no relation to David)—jumped on the idea. “All of a sudden Kathy and Brenda had bags, they’re printing out the Cascades logo to put on the side, they’re writing thank you notes—they had water, Gatorade, crackers, cookies… and then we added a box of tissue and a roll of toilet paper. No one could get toilet paper at first, it was like putting a roll of gold in there,” Walsh says. “Within a day we had the gift bags put together. I ran some out to the warehouse and they loved them too.”

While the effects of the pandemic were just beginning to be felt across the country, the Pittston plant and distribution center were already distributing the bags. “They went over really, really, well,” Walsh reports. “I got a call one morning from a truck driver—this had never happened before, and how he found my number I don’t know!—but 7 am, I got a phone call at my desk. He was an over-the-road driver who picked up maybe twice a week in our area. He was calling just to express how excited he was that the warehouse in Dunmore was not only very efficient but had given him a gift bag. Of course, I then called the manager there—Jordan Talarico—and told him, ‘that’s a helluva compliment you got!’ For the driver to take the time to contact us showed how much he appreciated the effort.”

Because they convert bathroom tissue and paper towels for at-home use, those early days of the COVID-19 response meant that the plant handled a record number of shipments. For several consecutive weeks in March, the Pittston Team was shipping about twice as much as usual.
Pennsylvania has now reopened many of its truck stops, and the drivers servicing the Pittston plant and the Dunmore distribution warehouse have all received gift bags. While the plant has phased out the gift bag program, Walsh says they are open to new ideas to help manage needs of individuals within the supply chain as the nation continues to deal with the effects of COVID-19. He also assures people that his plant plans to continue supplying toilet paper and other products.

Wisconsin and Arizona
The Pittston initiative was well received by other plant managers. At the plants in Eau-Claire, WI, and Kingman, AZ, this idea has not been unnoticed by the trucking industry.
Daved Baldridge, plant manager in Kingman, received a postcard from grateful truck drivers. “Dear Cascades Tissue, my husband and I would like to thank you for the lunches and toilet paper we received from your receiving/shipping office. It had been a rough couple of days on the road. Your thoughtfulness was a big highlight.”

“Word spreads quickly and this was well received. I am really proud of my people that have made it happen,” says Baldridge.

Bob Decker, plant manager in Eau-Claire, received this email from a fleet manager: “Cascades has done a wonderful job of showing my drivers their appreciation over the past few weeks. They have been offering snacks, bottled water, Gatorade, and rolls of toilet paper when they check in. This has done wonders to brighten my drivers’ day. Please extend my gratitude and the gratitude of my drivers to Cascades!”

Comments Decker, “I have shared this email to the team. It was fun to see my people congratulating one another as no one wanted to take personal credit for it. This situation, as bad as it can be, shows how strong we are together.”

Quebec, Canada
The situation is also critical in the province of Quebec, Canada. The biggest concentration of Cascades units is in the town of Kingsey Falls, where the company started 55 years ago. Not only tissue paper is manufactured there, but also essential products made for other Cascades divisions, such as containerboard and food packaging. As there is no place to stop in this area, the closure of the mills to truck drivers was a big issue.

In Quebec, Cascades owns two lavatory units that are used at major events during the summer for national brand marketing purposes. As all the events are cancelled, Cascades has set up one in Kingsey Falls, but also in key areas in collaboration with the Québec Ministry of Transport (MTQ) for the benefit of all truck drivers.

As services slowly reopen, Cascades is following the situation, but is committed to leaving the installations in place if necessary.

This whole experience reveals the importance of the supply chain. Everyday things like tissue products are essential to that supply chain. In order to keep the grocery stores open, the supply chain must work—and that not only means manufacturing, it means logistics, including trucking and warehousing.

“I’m appreciative of the fact that we’ve been able to continue to work,” says David Walsh. “All of our employees appreciate that our facility is considered essential—in Pennsylvania, they call it ‘life-sustaining’—and, knock on wood, my plant has been COVID-free.

For a while, managing our pandemic response became my full-time job,” he continues. “Every day, we’d come in and find that there was another government policy, or a corporate policy, that we needed to adapt to. We had to find a way. During any crisis, you need to be adaptable. My folks were getting up and getting to work every day during some pretty scary times.

“Our people have been really smart about protecting each other too, and adapted to doing some strange things: limiting the number of people in our break room, staggering our start and stop times, leaving our doors open so people won’t be pushing on doors, only holding meetings over virtual tools. Yet we had record productivity!,” Walsh concludes.

About Cascades:

Because at Cascades, we believe there is always a better way of doing things:

a better way to package and protect products,

a better way to manage your residual materials;

a better way to create a cleaner world.

Cascades produces, converts and markets packaging and tissue products that are composed mainly of recycled fibres.

Learn more: https://www.cascades.com/en