MILLINOCKET, Maine – The Maine Department of Labor will deploy a Rapid Response team to the Katahdin region to assist nine workers due to be laid off this week from the Katahdin Avenue paper mill, a spokesman said.
“At this point it’s looking like it will happen at the end of this week,” Labor Department Spokesman Adam Fisher said Tuesday. “We don’t have an exact time as yet.”
Katahdin Paper Co. LLC officials said Monday that they expect to begin laying off as many as 208 workers from the Millinocket mill and ultimately some from the East Millinocket mill by the end of the week. The layoffs will be gradual as workers prepare the Millinocket plant for an indefinite shutdown as part of the company’s plans to convert the mill from burning oil to burning biomass — and possibly reopen if biomass negotiations are fruitful.
Glenn Saucier, the mill’s personnel department director, confirmed that nine layoffs are likely by Saturday.
The Rapid Response team offers access to re-employment leads and advice, job retraining, unemployment benefits and all state and federal health care and unemployment resources, Fisher said.
Fisher echoed Saucier’s message Monday that mill management and unions will finish retraining, mill cleanup and bumping — a union practice that allows workers with seniority to keep jobs ahead of less-senior workers — over the next several weeks.
“Because of the bumping and training sessions, it will be awhile before we have anything new scheduled,” Fisher said.
The retraining is part of management restructuring and plans to mothball the mill until the new boiler is operational, he said.
Fisher stressed that the Labor Department has a worker posted at the Katahdin Region Higher Education Center off Route 157 in East Millinocket who can meet with laid-off workers at any time.
Mill parent company Brookfield Asset Management of Toronto announced May 29 that the Millinocket mill’s prodigious oil use would in 60 days force an indefinite shutdown and layoff of 208 workers if an alternative energy source were not found.
Gov. John Baldacci intervened, the mill found energy savings and supportive customers, and the deadline was extended repeatedly.
Brookfield was in talks with alternative energy providers on Aug. 26 when its officials ordered the Sept. 2 shutdown in a manner that Baldacci and the unions said was abrupt. The mill ceased production on Sept. 2 when cleanup operations began.
The transition team consists of state and local government officials, community leaders and churches and nonprofit social service agencies working to assemble all aid available for laid-off workers.