EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — When he was laid off from the Katahdin Paper Co. LLC mill on Main Street last week, Scott Markie wondered whether he could still afford the big Thanksgiving Day dinner his family has traditionally enjoyed.
He stopped wondering on Monday.
The Eastern Maine Labor Council and Food AND Medicine gave Markie two frozen turkeys and at least one paper shopping bag full of fixings on Monday afternoon.
In an effort co-sponsored by those nonprofit organizations and aided by donations from several thousand members of 34 local unions statewide, 150 bags of turkeys and fixings like those Markie received went to laid-off workers across the state on Monday, said Jack McKay. McKay is volunteer president of the labor council and director of Food AND Medicine, which is dedicated to organizing, educating and empowering workers and communities to fight for economic and social justice.
Laid-off workers from Pinkham Lumber Co. of Ashland, Domtar Paper in Baileyville, Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center in Bangor, Eastern Fine Paper in Brewer, the Katahdin Paper Co. mills in East Millinocket and Millinocket, and Red Shield in Old Town were among those who benefited from the donations, McKay said.
Markie and other laid-off union members were grateful for the help.
“I wasn’t expecting this,” Markie said Monday. “I think it’s really nice for the unions to do this. Their hands are tied with what’s going on with the mills in Millinocket and East [Millinocket], but this shows that they do all they can do.”
A millworker for 23½ years, Markie, 48, of Mattawamkeag was laid off from the East Millinocket mill when a worker from the Millinocket mill with more seniority claimed his position, per his union contract, he said.
Kevin Gregory, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 3 of East Millinocket, helped distribute the bags of food at a union office on Main Street. He said the food helps the workers at their most vulnerable time — when they’re unemployed and wondering when their mills will restart.
“It’s stressful to be laid off,” Gregory said. “This shows that people really care. It’s union brothers taking care of their brothers.
“We have all been laid off,” he added. “Nobody likes that. It’s a hard time of year to get laid off, but what makes it really stressful is not knowing. If you knew it [the mill] was going to start up again in spring or fall, people could live with that.”
Besides turkeys, the bags included pumpkin pies, cranberry sauce, onions, carrots and stuffing. Wherever possible, the food was gathered from local farms or distribution points to aid the local economy, McKay said.
He estimated the food’s value at more than $8,000. That doesn’t count the time and energy of the more than 50 union member volunteers who bought, packaged, transported and distributed the food from Bangor to Fort Kent on Monday, he said.
The food gifts demonstrate the solidarity of unions and benefits to belonging to unions, McKay said, but he wished the organizations could do more for the unemployed workers.
“Yes, the food is significant,” he said. “It helps a lot of people and it’s a good thing to do, but in the big scheme of things it’s a drop in the bucket.”