Facing layoffs, mill workers’ fears heard

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LIVERMORE FALLS – More than 40 people gathered Thursday afternoon in the big quiet room in Murray Hall to see how they can help the 150 Wausau Paper Corporation mill workers who will lose their jobs by year’s end.

Representing local and state agencies, local businesses, town officials, politicians, along with a few union members and a good number of mill workers all met to listen, ask questions, offer help and ideas during the two-hour meeting that was organized by the United Way of the Tri-Valley Area.

Wausau Paper announced on Aug. 25 that it would permanently shut down the No.10 machine, putting 150 of the 235 employees out of work. The shut down, expected sometime before Dec. 31 leaves one of the two paper machines operational at the mill, located in Jay and Livermore Falls. The No. 10 paper machine, with a capacity of 40,000 tons annually, manufactures coated products, such as release liners used to label products, grease-resistant protective barrier paper and tape-ll570_group.gifbacking paper.

“We tried very hard to put this off,” said Steve Wilkins, the director of human resources at Wausau Paper. The last orders are expected to be in by mid-October and then company management will determine which employees will be laid off when depending on the orders to be completed, he said. A severance package has been offered to some senior employees who may want to resign early which will leave 70 workers who will be notified by mid October the date their jobs will end.

“Some will stay beyond closing date,” Wilkins said. “But most will be leaving between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31,” he said. “It’s hard to say because the phone’s been ringing off the hook for orders since the closing was announced.”

Ninety-seven of the employees returned a survey that showed that 80 males and 17 females, with 17 identifying themselves as veterans, will be laid off. Of those, 33 are residents of Livermore Falls, 30 live in Jay, 8 in Wilton and the remainder from are the towns of Industry, Farmington, Livermore, Wayne, Winthrop and more. The average age of the mill worker is 48 and the average number of years working at the Otis Mill is 17 years. The current company was formed in December 1997 with the merger of Mosinee Paper Corporation and Wausau Paper Mill Company.

Some of the mill workers present said the mood at the mill was at first somber, then one of frustration and anger have been voiced.

“Most of us have been there a long time. We’re overwhelmed with the whole situation. It’s going to be a hardship,” said Kim LaVoie, president of the local chapter of the United Steel Workers Union at the Otis Mill. He wondered about assistance in the long term for the workers.

“There is a lot of unrest,” Wilkins said. “They’re good people, it’s a good mill and it’s a damn shame.” Some mentioned the emotional strain coming after years working with the threat the mill would be downsized at any moment and then, it finally arriving.

The question around the room was what resources are available to help the displaced workers and and what is the best way to ensure the workers can access it.

Many of the agencies and businesses represented offered budgeting advice, stress management counseling, job training at the CareerCenter, small business counseling and education opportunities at the community colleges, or Adult Ed.

The state’s Department of Labor rapid response team will meet with workers during the first couple of weeks in October at the Otis Mill. The sessions are at 1 p.m.: Monday, Oct. 6, Friday, Oct. 10 and Friday, Oct. 17; and at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 7. The team, which responds to industry’s layoffs, meets with soon-to-be-displaced workers and helps them file for unemployment benefits and discusses health care options.

Ronda Palmer, Jay town clerk and Louise Chabot, Livermore Falls selectmen chairwoman, encouraged workers to contact the town offices to find out about the help they can provide, such as general assistance. The pair also offered up their town offices to be used as contribution centers to collect donations for the displaced workers.

Also in the works is the mill’s application for the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance funding, which the Maine delegation supports said aides to U.S. Senators Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud in attendance at the meeting. The funding, which is given in instances where workers are laid off due to foreign trade agreements, extends the unemployment benefit period and provides funding for the education and retraining of displaced workers.

In Maine, the federal funding program has been enacted 24 times as the shoe industry, wood and paper mills and other companies faced downsizing and/or closures.

“We can’t apply until we’re within 60 days of closing and we don’t know when that’s going to be,” Wilkins said. “We’ve got to get it,” he added.

By meeting’s end, it was determined that the mill’s entrance would have tables set up with resource materials available and possibly be staffed at various times by experts to answer questions. Also resource, education and job fairs will be held either at the mill or other convenient sites near the mill. A resource list of all that is available to help workers find what they need will be compiled through the United Way office and be distributed. The next meeting of this group is scheduled for 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 29 at Murray Hall.

“The fear, the concern is for providing for the family over the winter. What about food and heat if they can’t find jobs?” LaVoie asked. “We need to address those concerns. I can’t just go to school without a full-time job.”

More than 40 people gathered Thursday afternoon in Murray Hall to see how they can help the 150 Wausau Paper Corporation mill workers who will lose their jobs by year’s end.

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