MILWAUKEE (AP) - Four Wisconsin paper mills are expected to merge under new ownership into the state's biggest papermaking company by employment.
The New York private equity firm, KPS Capital Partners LP, has agreed to acquire Rhinelander and Mosinee paper mills from Wausau Paper Corp. and the Kaukauna and De Pere mills from Thilmany Papers, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
KPS previously has said it cannot finalize its acquisitions until a new union contract is approved, but the United Steelworkers has ratified a four-year collective bargaining agreement for three of the mills. The De Pere is a nonunion mill.
According to a statement from the United Steelworkers' Pittsburgh headquarters, the union lauded KPS for its willingness to increase wages, improve health care benefits and "lock in retirement security."
The creation of a new paper company takes places as the paper industry in Wisconsin, the nation's No. 1 papermaking state, is in a period of restructuring and consolidation.
All four mills produce specialty papers for packaging, like candy wrappers and microwave popcorn bags to masking tape.
None of the four mills makes paper for printing and publishing, which is a major Wisconsin industry but one that's under the greatest pressure of obsolescence in a digital age.
The new paper company will employ 1,800 in the state. It doesn't yet have a formal name. But it will create the largest specialty paper company in North America, its proponents have said.