Former Domtar millworker sets the record straight

Posted March 22, 2009, at 8:42 p.m.

I am writing to reply to comments posted online in response to the article “State ready to tackle problem: Baldacci talks to Domtar millworkers/Workers still scared” (BDN, March 10). When I first looked at the story, I thought to myself are they scared or concerned. Then I read the postings online. I was appalled at some of the comments from the readers attacking workers at the Domtar mill.

These men and woman have spent their lives working in production, maintenance and other duties, and I can say these men and woman work hard for what they are paid to do including shift work, holidays. Then I read comments about how these people are going to get a free education paid for by the taxpayers of Maine.

These comments are misinformed, and I felt the need to set the record straight. First, the program everyone is talking about is part of NAFTA, which your government signed. In this agreement there were provisions that stated anyone who loses a job due to trade will be eligible for retraining through Trade Readjustment Allowances and Trade Adjustment Assistance if they qualify.

This has nothing to do with Maine taxpayers paying for it; these are federally funded programs that are paid for by workers who lose their jobs (Domtar, Fraser, Georgia-Pacific, and Louisiana-Pacific to mention a few). It seems as if people want to attack these men and woman who may lose their jobs because of foreign trade. These workers have done nothing wrong except possibly lose their jobs, but they are attacked just the same.

It’s not Domtar’s or the union workers’ fault that this mill is talking about a shutdown. Nor is it Gov. John Baldacci’s fault. The economy has hurt many over the past few years, but we cannot blame a single entity for this. We as consumers go to places such as Wal-Mart to buy products at a price we can all afford, and Wal-Mart buys products that cost the least, and these come from foreign competitors such as China that have no environmental or labor laws, which in return makes it cheap to do business.

One of the highest costs in making pulp and paper in Maine are the environmental costs, and as these costs continue to climb so will the jobs lost in these industries. But places like China will continue to pollute the atmosphere while selling its low-cost goods on a global market, while we in this country suffer. Think about an oxymoron, where an environmental group prints its publications on paper made in China, where the athletes had to wear face masks due to the pollution during the Olympics.

We as Americans need to rethink our strategy concerning free trade, because free trade isn’t free, and if we don’t stop outsourcing jobs to places that have no rules or regulations we have no one to blame except ourselves. If we are serious enough to approach these issues and place taxes on products coming into this country from places that have no rules or environmental regulations maybe we can do more than save jobs; maybe we can also save the environment.

In 2007, I lost my job, but will graduate this year with my associate degree, thanks to the TAA and TRA program that were paid for by losing my job.

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

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