Sen. Collins earns vote from Maine millworker

Posted Oct. 12, 2008, at 6:09 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 3:25 a.m.

As a member of the executive board for the local union at the Domtar mill in Baileyville, I was involved with the negotiations for the severance package of the dislocated workers. As we began our negotiations, the company made it clear that it was going to base the severance pay on the 2007 W2s. This was unacceptable as most of these workers were laid off for most of 2007. After weeks of negotiation we were at deadlock.

Enter Sen. Susan Collins. She and her staff traveled to Washington County to meet with both the union and Domtar officials to discuss the future of the workers and the company’s future plans for the paper machine at the mill.

After that meeting with Sen. Collins, she pledged to the union workers that she would do whatever it takes to get us a fair package.

The very next meeting, the company continued to balk at giving the workers a fair package. Others and I contacted Sen. Collins’ Bangor office to report what was taking place and the company’s position on this matter. Sen. Collins was on the phone the next day with the CEO of Domtar to ask for his assistance and to work toward a fair package with the union workers at Domtar.

At the next meeting, the company stated it was willing to give the displaced union workers severance pay along with all the other benefits.

If it were not for Sen. Collins, I honestly believe the company would not have agreed to the package our international union representative put forth. After the agreement was approved by both the company and union, Sen. Collins personally called each member of the negotiation team to ask how we were doing and to extend her hand to help each person in the future. She also called Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to push for Trade Adjustment Assistance and Trade Readjustment Allowance benefits to help displaced workers get into approved training, along with extended benefits.

To say Sen. Collins helped each and every union member would be an understatement. She went the extra step to make sure no union members were left behind, and to have such a powerful influence in our time of need was a major factor for all of us.

I personally have to add that at first I was skeptical of a Republican senator coming to meet with us, based on the adage that Republicans are against unions. Sen. Collins didn’t come here just as a senator, she came here as a person concerned about the welfare of the workers and their families and she took a personal interest in seeing to it that no one was left behind.

I don’t view Sen. Collins as just a senator, but also a friend to myself and the union workers of Maine. The attack ads I have listened to about Susan Collins are all wrong. She and Sen. Olympia Snowe have been there for the people of Maine and they continue to fight for each and every one of us when times are tough.

Robert Phelan is a former member of local United Steel Workers union at the Domtar mill in Baileyville.

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