EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Great Northern Paper Co. issued federally-mandated layoff notices to workers at its idled local mill Friday, informing them they will now qualify for government-sponsored retraining.

The federal Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act requires most employers with 100 or more employees to provide notification to workers 60 calendar days in advance of plant closings and mass layoffs expected to last six months or more.

The company laid off 212 of its 256 workers on Feb. 6. GNP hadn’t issued WARN notices previously because company officials originally expected to have workers back on the job within 90 days.

“While this is a mandatory issuance, officials at GNP remain committed to working towards a restart of the East Millinocket facility, and will continue to explore all possible options to facilitate a successful restart,” the company said in a press release. “GNP has retained a reduced staff in order to properly maintain and preserve the facility and all of its assets so that a restart of operations can be readily achieved.”

All of the workers will receive 60 days pay under the WARN Act. The date severance and vacation pay are finished will determine when unemployment checks will be issued.

Unemployment pay lasts for 26 weeks.

Exactly how the WARN Act will affect GNP workers is unclear. All but 44 of the mill’s workers have been on unemployment since Feb. 6, with workers’ unemployment benefits expiring this week or next, said Louis Ouellette, former president of the mill’s Local 152 of the United Steelworkers Union.

Many of the workers worked two weeks before getting laid off and collecting benefits. Those workers might get paid four weeks instead of six.

Most of the workers at the mill, who were at the top of the union’s benefits and wages scale, had yet to claim four weeks of vacation time prior to the layoff and might be owed that in pay as well, Ouellette said.

Ouellette has himself already returned to school for retraining. He is due to become a certified nurse’s aide in October, he said.


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