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Fifty-one more employees are losing their jobs at the Androsscoggin Mill in Jay, a loss attributed in part to a massive explosion at the mill in April that destroyed a pulp digester. Sun Journal file photo

JAY — The owner of the Androscoggin paper mill announced Thursday that it will cut 51 more jobs, which include hourly and salaried employees.

It is the second round of layoffs since July, when 59 people were let go following an April 15 explosion when a digester at the mill ruptured.

After Thursday’s announcement, there are 348 workers still at the mill, according to company spokesman Alan Ulman.

The Maine Department of Labor has been in contact with the company, and is providing Rapid Response services to affected employees as needed, department spokeswoman Jessica Picard wrote in an email.

“There will be virtual Rapid Response sessions for all affected employees on Oct. 2. We are also working with affected employees one-on-one as needed,” she said.

Pixelle Specialty Solutions, headquartered in Pennsylvania, continues to develop its long-term plan, following the pulp mill digester rupture that stopped its pulp manufacturing operation, according to a news release.

Pixelle purchased the mill earlier this year as part of a $400 million deal that also included a mill in Wisconsin. In November, there were about 5oo employees at the Jay mill.

Ulman wrote in an email Tuesday that the mill is addressing market and order-related issues this month by taking some downtime. He also said orders to the mill are strengthening.

“Our thoughts are again with the affected employees,” Jay Town Manager Shiloh LaFreniere wrote in an email Thursday. “We realize that the explosion at Pixelle in April has necessitated changes at the mill and we are hopeful that the changes they are making along with their ongoing assessment of operations will result in long-term viability of the facility. For today though, our thoughts are with the employees and their families that are facing this challenge.”

According to the company’s timeline, following the April 15 explosion the mill reestablished its pulp supply with purchased pulp from other Pixelle operations and third-party suppliers, and resumed paper manufacturing by April 23.

On July 9, Pixelle announced it would reduce its number of employees over time, as operating competitively in its new configuration requires the mill to reorganize its staffing model. The initial reduction occurred July 13 and affected 59 employees.

The mill used many of its employees at the rupture site to assist with demolition, debris removal and cleanup, which is substantially complete.

“As we stated previously,” mill Manager Jay Thiessen said in the release, “the reductions are an unfortunate consequence of a circumstance no one expected, wanted, or caused. Everyone affected has been a valued member of our team. We will provide those affected by the reduction support in the form of compensation, benefits, and job placement assistance.”

The mill continues operating safely and utilizing its two operating paper machines to produce specialty products to meet the needs of its customers, according to mill officials.

It will complete remediation of the rupture site, determine the root cause of the rupture and develop a long-term plan before deciding on any further reductions, according to the release.

As we stated previously, “this is a time-intensive process. We expect it to continue until at least the fourth quarter of 2020. We need to develop and execute the long-term plan correctly to help ensure long-term success,” according to Thiessen.

“The employees at this mill have confronted unprecedented adversity and still they continue to focus on operating in a safe and environmentally responsible manner, providing exceptional product quality and service to our customers, and operating cost-effectively while providing a return on investment that exceeds the industry average. They are remarkable,” Thiessen said.

The town of Jay will apply for the state’s Sudden and Severe Valuation Loss Program after April 1, 2021, because of an anticipated significant loss of valuation caused by the explosion. The adjusted valuation, if approved by Maine State Revenue Services, would affect the town in 2021-22, LaFreniere previously said.

Two paper machines were restarted on April 22 following the explosion that were running specialty paper products 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Ulman said in April. One machine ran commodity paper products until the rupture and was not running. Two other paper machines were permanently idled in 2015. The paper machines were not damaged during the explosion and no one was injured.


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