Chris Ferris (Unit Leader)
Unit Leader, Clearwater Paper
When she was 15, Chris Ferris took her first job in a grocery store. She never imagined that she would stay in the grocery industry as a career until a love of forestland and a desire to get out of southern California brought her to Idaho in 1990. As a Unit Leader with Clearwater Paper in Lewiston, Chris now operates a series of machines that take “parent rolls”—5000-lb. rolls of paper—and cut them down to the sizes of the toilet paper, paper towels, napkins and facial tissue.
“It’s hard work!” Chris admits. “I work a ‘4-day on, 4-day off’ schedule, which is great. My work days are 12 hours long, but those days off sure make up for it.”
Chris’s machine — the winder — loads paper into a series of metal rollers and embossers, and makes a long “log” of bathroom tissue product.
“I have to be able to run the winder,” Chris says, “and I also have to run the saw. A 2-blade orbital-head saw cuts the paper logs into smaller rolls. The blades on the saw are each about 2 feet wide. I run the big machine, the winder, usually, and there are two people working with me so that we give each other breaks throughout the day.”
Clearwater Paper makes “private label”—store brand—tissue, such as toilet paper, facial tissue, paper towels, etc. Clearwater Paper also has a pulp and paperboard mill that makes paperboard for folded cartons (i.e. high-end boxes) and liquid packaging for milk, juice, ice cream and other containers.
“I didn’t have any experience working in a factory when I came on here,” Chris recalls. “Coming from the supermarket industry, though, I was used to hard work for long hours, often at night. I’ve never been afraid to try anything new!”
“I’ve always been a hard worker.”
Chris states that the best thing about working at Clearwater Paper, besides the work hours, is the quality of the people she works with. “There are some great people here, particularly some really nice women. It means a lot to me to work with good-hearted, hard-working people. I don’t have much tolerance for shallow, plastic people. I’ve been working in this industry for 16 years now. I love it.”
Safety is a huge focus at any manufacturing facility, and especially at Clearwater Paper. “You have to be extremely careful,” Chris cautions somberly, “because the job can be dangerous. I actually got my hand caught once between two rubber belts. It got hurt, but I was lucky because I’m ok. You have to be alert, always get a good night’s sleep, and pay attention. You might be lifting 5000-lb paper rolls with someone whizzing past you on a forklift. It’s also important to have good people around you. I try to keep a good alert crew around me at all times. You want to be able to go home at night and enjoy your family . . . and you also want to get the chance to enjoy retirement!”
Chris’s advice for people who are looking to get into a job like this: “Be ready to work hard and to stay up late if your shift requires it. And you have to be able to get along with everybody. You have to be willing to work, to stay healthy and to do your job without complaint. And, you have to be able to go home and rest. This is hard work, but if you do it well and safely, people will respect you.”
Technology has made certain aspects of working at Clearwater Paper easier to manage. Chris relates: “We have to test paper and make sure everything is within spec. We have six units that make bathroom tissue, and they all used to be gear-driven. We used to have to take the machine apart and physically change out the gears to make different plys (thicknesses) of tissue. The machines have been upgraded to servo motors now, in what’s called a Genesis system, so today you just enter numbers and push buttons.”
Chris learned how to run the machines at Clearwater Paper by starting on the company’s training program for new employees. New hires are placed on a machine called a wrapper, which wraps rolls of finished tissue product in poly (plastic) outer wrappers.
“After four weeks of training on the wrapper, you are on your own!” Chris laughs. “After that, when there is an opportunity, you move over to set-up, where you work between the winder and the wrapper. Eventually, then you move up the winder.”
“Everyone needs to be able to run all the machines,” she continues. “We need to be able to fill in for each other when someone has to take a break.”
Like most folks who work in the forest products industry, Chris has had the benefit of having some great mentors and friends to guide her through her career.
“My grandparents, and my grandfather in particular, were passionate about taking my sister and I out to ‘see the trees’ all the time,” reminisces Chris. “Grandpa was a Cub Scout leader, and he loved the outdoors. He used to take my sister and I to Lassen Volcanic Park and Big Bear and Tahoe to get us out into the trees. I still use that phrase—‘I need to get out into the trees.’ There’s just something about walking through a forest.”
In fact, it was on a family trip to Yellowstone that Chris and her husband came through Lewiston and Clarkston from southern California.
“We came through here in September of 1990, and we went back to California, sold our house, and moved to Lewiston by Thanksgiving of that year,” Chris laughs. “We just fell in love with Idaho. My husband has the same expansive love for the outdoors that Grandpa did. We are always outside.”
Chris and her husband often go out on 4-wheelers to pick huckleberries and see wildlife. They also enjoy boating and camping, and spending time with their daughters and their grandchildren.