JAY – Time has helped heal the wounds of the community and some strikers, but not all.
Tom Hersey of Livermore Falls and several other men who lost their jobs going on strike when labor negotiations went awry with International Paper 20 years ago sat around a table Tuesday drinking coffee. They meet regularly to talk and try to solve the world’s problems, they say.
They would have been 18 days into the strike two decades ago.
For some, the memories of that turbulent time when 1,200 workers left their jobs behind and what followed have faded. For others, the anger runs deep and remains strong.
The strike began after the last shift on June 15, 1987, according to Julius Getmen’s book “The Betrayal of Local 14,” though the date differs in the minds of some.
Normand Ouellette’s daughter had turned 18 the day the strike began, he said.
“I remember the day; it was June 16,” Ouellette said. He had worked at the mill for 37 years as a papermaker then.
“It affected everybody,” Ouellette said. “Everybody used to have a good income, and you don’t have it anymore We found other jobs. We kept on going. It was a temporary setback.”
The union hall where the men meet is the same one that members of Local 14 of United Paperworkers International Union came together and bonded in solidarity. Since then, the union was decertified at the mill, and the labor union’s name changed after merging with other labor groups. Even the mill changed hands after IP sold it in 2006. It is now Verso Paper’s Androscoggin Mill.
There are some people who continue to live in the strike days, but regardless, hundreds of tons of quality paper have gone out of the mill and a lot of electricity has been generated with water through the Riley Dam, Verso Paper spokesman Bill Cohen said, speaking on behalf of the mill and not IP.
“There are about 900 great paying jobs, and if you take every dollar the mill spends locally and multiply it by seven (the formula the state uses), we clearly are the economic engine of the county,” Cohen said.
But more important, Cohen said, is that Verso Paper has enhanced wage and benefit packages. Throughout the years, the mill has continued to focus on working safely and improving its impact on the environment, and has been recognized as an industrial environmental leader.
Verso Paper remains committed to investing in a clean environmental footprint, Cohen said.
Oversize cribbage boards sit idle in front of the men at the table, a deck of cards atop each one.
On one wall of the hall, names of recalled workers are written in the numbered order they were called back.
The list stops at 544, though the number of recalled workers is written on another board as 551 with no more workers to be recalled.
The remainder of the strikers found other jobs, took buyouts, retired or moved away, Roger Plante of Jay said as he made a pot of coffee.
Plante was 47 at the time of the strike and had worked for the company for about 28 years.
“It’s not over,” Plante said. “We lost our jobs. It will never be o er. I lost a good paying job. I still got anger when I see scabs who took our jobs. I still hate them as much as the day they took our jobs.”
Hersey believes animosity in the community has dissipated.
He had 30 years at IP before the strike and went back 4 years afterward.
The time off between the two helped him maintain his health.
“I think the 4 years I missed, saved my life. I would have neglected my health,” Hersey said.
Anatole Richard of Wilton agreed.
“I probably would have been underground,” Richard said.
They worked long hours and put work before their health back then.
“I’ve forgotten about it,” Ouellette said of strike and fallout. “It’s water over the dam. You can’t dwell on it.”
“Time heals all wounds, so they tell you,” Hersey added.
The animosity doesn’t feel quite as bad as what it was, Richard said.
“It was pretty bad at the time,” Richard said. “I guess it’s over, but not forgotten.”
“I don’t think it will ever go away,” said Bernard Shink of Jay, a 40-year-plus paper worker. “I think it’s gone away some. It’s starting to calm down a little.”
The people in Jay have become stronger because of the strike, Plante said. During the strike, the union hall was packed wall-to-wall.
They know how to fight for what they want, he said.
“The town is strong in itself. People take up town meeting with a vigor,” Plante said.