Lawmakers: Mill slowdown, layoffs “devastating’ and ‘drastic’

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AUGUSTA — State and federal lawmakers in Maine and Washington, D.C., reacted with frustration and concern Thursday at the news Verso will idle part of its mill in Jay — laying off about 300 employees permanently.

“The news of the planned layoffs at the Jay mill is devastating for the community,” Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, said in a prepared statement. “My concern right now is for the workers and their families, and I stand ready to help them in any way I can. If you or your family is affected by this decision, please don’t hesitate to contact me.”

Rep. Paul Gilbert, D-Jay, called the news of the layoffs, “devastating.”

“Three hundred of our friends and neighbors are losing good-paying jobs at a time when jobs are already scarce in our area,” Gilbert said in a prepared statement.” After these layoffs, about 500 jobs will remain at the mill — a mill that employed 1,400 Mainers in 1987.”

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Gilbert said the announcement by Verso was evidence that state and federal policymakers needed to do more to protect manufacturing in the U.S.

“This shows just how urgent it is that we as policymakers do everything we can to preserve the manufacturing jobs that communities like ours rely on while growing other jobs with strong wages in other promising fields,” Gilbert said. “I want the impacted workers to know I stand with them and that they can reach out to me for assistance. I’ve talked to the mill and the town office to let them know I’m here to help.”

Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said state lawmakers from both parties have been working to lower energy costs in Maine.

“The layoffs at Verso underscore the importance of meeting our current energy needs while diversifying our fuel sources for the future,” Gideon said in a prepared statement. “The states that embrace abundant, cheap and renewable fuel sources will be the states that ultimately lead in sustainable low energy costs, technological innovation and job creation.”

House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, said policymakers should work to keep Maine competitive.

“Maine workers can match those anywhere in the world,” McCabe said, “but we’ve got to make sure that everyone’s playing by the rules and that Maine isn’t put at a competitive disadvantage by unfair subsidies or other tactics.”

House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said the Verso announcement, like all large-scale layoffs, “strike at the heart of a family and of our communities.”

But Eves also offered words of encouragement.

“My message to these families and to the entire state is that it will get better,” he said. “Each and every one of the workers who lost a job will be part of Maine’s comeback story as we work to grow good jobs and strong wages. Our state must climb out of the recession with smart policies that invest in our workers and our people. Each of those workers has something to offer a new employer.”

Also weighing in on the layoffs was House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, who agreed the high price of energy in Maine was a contributing factor. Fredette noted the layoffs would impact other workers, including those who harvest wood and truck it to the mill, resulting in an even larger number of jobs being lost overall.

“Energy costs are a key driver for many manufacturing businesses in Maine and we must work together in state government and regionally to lower these costs in order to prevent future job loss,” Fredette said.

Meanwhile, Maine’s U.S. Senators, Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent, along 2nd District U.S. Congressman Bruce Poliquin, also a Republican, issued a joint statement from Washington urging Verso to file a petition for the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance program.

If approved, the program would help provide employment training, income support and job search assistance to affected workers.

Saviello said the news was not surprising, but disappointing, “Especially so because as recently as three weeks ago, I was led to believe by mill management that nothing drastic was going to happen. I would certainly characterize this decision as drastic, and hope Verso will be supportive of their workers during this difficult time.”

sthistle@sunjournal.com

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