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Federal help requested for Wausau mill workers

5 mins read

JAY – More help may be on the way for the nearly 150 employees of the Wausau Paper Corporation mill, who expect to lose their jobs by the end of the year.

U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe and Senator Susan Collins have sent a letter to the federal Department of Labor, asking that Trade Adjustment Assistance be approved for the workers. That aid, if approved, could represent resources for the workers to learn new professions, augment their current income and find new jobs.

“This TAA assistance is critical to help Wausau Paper’s employees get back on their feet during this hardship,” the Senators said in a statement released jointly. “We will continue to support our fellow Mainers whose lives have been impacted by these layoffs and make sure they receive the aid and resources they need.”

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 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-backing paper.

Since the announcement, local organizations have sprung into action. The state’s own Department of Labor has met with mill workers, United Way has published a “resource guide focusing on surviving unemployment,” and spearheaded a task force consisting of representatives of the mill, employees, local businesses, community colleges and other related agencies. Some of these organizations have offered advice, ranging from finding retraining opportunities to how to reduce stress, while others have looked into new resources workers could tap into.

Some contact information for some of these organizations, and the United Way’s resource guide, can be found here.

Trade Adjustment Assistance, or TAA, is given in instances where workers are laid off due to foreign trade agreements. It extends the unemployment benefits 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.

“This TAA assistance is critical to help Wausau Paper’s employees get back on their feet during this hardship,” commented the Senators in a joint statement. “We will continue to support our fellow Mainers whose lives have been impacted by these layoffs and make sure they receive the aid and resources they need.”

The purpose of the TAA program is to aid workers who lose their jobs or whose hours of work and wages decrease as a result of increased imports. If the TAA petition is approved, displaced Wausau Paper workers will be eligible for employment training in another job or career, income support, job search allowance, and relocation services for individuals who obtain jobs outside of their normal commuting area.

A petition for TAA must be filed by the workers, and they apparently have done so. In a letter addressed to Secretary Chao of the U.S. Department of Labor, Collins and Snowe say that there is a need for the assistance.

“Given this mill is situated in one of the more rural areas of Maine,” the letter reads, “the effort these workers will have to make to find alternative employment will be extensive. Since many related industries have already experienced similar declines in business due to foreign trade, these workers may not find similar positions elsewhere and may require retraining for other emerging occupations.”

“This assistance is of paramount importance to us, the workers and to the families they support,” the letter goes on to say.

To meet the criteria for TAA, workers must have been totally or partially laid off, sales or productions must have declined, and increased imports must have “contributed importantly to worker layoffs,” according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment & Training Administration.

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