EAST MILLINOCKET — Great Northern Paper Co. LLC will lay off 212 of its 256 workers at its already idled Main Street facility as the company continues efforts to improve its efficiency, a company spokesman said Thursday.
“We understand this temporary work stoppage will be difficult for employees. This is a different course than expected when we began to restructure, but it is a necessary step. We continue to work diligently on addressing fundamental operational issues that must be overcome for GNP to restart and remain viable over the long term,” spokesman Scott Tranchemontagne said in a statement released shortly before 4 p.m.
A total of 212 employees are receiving temporary layoff notices Thursday. Forty-four employees will continue to work on cost reduction initiatives and keep needed systems running smoothly to allow for a production restart, he said.
Duane Lugdon, a statewide United Steelworkers Union representative that handles the mill’s unionized workers, confirmed the layoffs shortly before Tranchemontagne announced them.
“Obviously it is another sad story in the pulp and paper industry in Maine,” Lugdon said Thursday. “If you think of it, the paper industry has a case of the flu, and some of the symptoms are the things happening here.”
The symptoms, Lugdon said, include high energy and production costs, plummeting market prices and savage foreign competition.
On Jan. 23, Great Northern announced a production shutdown that would last for as many as 16 weeks. Tranchemontagne said at the time that the company’s 256 workers would stay on for at least two months working toward improving operating efficiencies, including improving the mill’s water and energy use.