State strikes severance deal with Verso on behalf of laid-off Bucksport workers

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BUCKSPORT — State officials announced Tuesday they’ve reached a deal requiring Verso Paper to issue half the severance pay due to more than 500 workers laid off in Bucksport by Jan. 8, 2015.

The deal, which would deliver the rest of the about $18 million in severance payments owed to former Bucksport millworkers before a March deadline, is a compromise that Gov. Paul LePage said in a prepared statement aims to avoid a prolonged legal battle.

“Rather than wait for court decisions that could be months away with uncertain outcomes, these workers will have money on hand to help them get through the holidays and the winter months while they make plans for their futures,” LePage said.

Democratic Speaker of the House Mark Eves also hailed both the announcement and the bipartisan cooperation that preceded it. Eves co-authored a joint letter with Democratic and Republican state lawmakers urging Verso to pay severance to its workers.

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“The attorney general, the Department of Labor, the governor and state lawmakers have been working in a bipartisan fashion to do right by the workers of the mills and their families,” said Eves in a written statement. “I’m glad we were able to come together on a bipartisan basis to stand on the side of workers and send a strong message to out-of-state corporations who might try to skirt our laws.”

The Department of Labor and Maine attorney general’s office announced the agreement late Tuesday afternoon, saying it came with support of the United Steelworkers union.

“This negotiated resolution is superior to litigation, which extends uncertainty for workers who should receive the benefits to which they are entitled,” said Duane Lugdon, head of USW Local 555, in the prepared statement.

Maine Department of Labor officials and the attorney general’s office said they had filed the agreement Tuesday in Kennebec County Superior Court.

The severance deal specifies that workers would get the second half of the severance payment five business days after a sale closes, or by March 19, 2015. Any unused vacation time in 2014 would be paid by Jan. 8, 2015.

If Verso fails to make payments to laid-off workers by that date, the company faces a fine paid to the state of up to $1,000 per affected employee and possible damages paid to those employees, according to a statement from the Department of Labor.

Any workers who don’t receive what they believe to be their proper payments by those deadlines should file complaints with the Bureau of Labor Standards’ Wage and Hour Division, according to the Department of Labor.

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