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Lincoln paper mill workers to get severance, early retirement offers

Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
The Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC mill as seen on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013.
By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff

LINCOLN, Maine — United Steelworkers Union leaders will present severance and early retirement offerings Thursday to the approximately 200 workers laid off from the Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC mill, the union’s international representative said.

Duane Lugdon, whose union represents almost all of the 400 workers employed at Lincoln Paper, said he would save disclosure of the details of those arrangements for a private meeting at Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln for the union rank-and-file at 2 p.m. The union began negotiating the offerings with mill managers earlier this week.

“I would like them to hear it from us first,” Lugdon said Thursday. “It is just an offering. They are free to accept or reject it if they want. I think it is fair. We certainly would have liked to have had more security so that they [laid-off workers] could heat their homes this winter.”

The Maine Department of Labor’s Rapid Response team will attend the meeting to help workers file for unemployment benefits and retraining, town officials said.

Lugdon estimated that as many as 40 workers could be eligible for the early retirement offering, effectively saving 40 jobs for younger workers. The negotiations have also produced a recall list for workers guaranteeing them a chance to get their jobs back unless they opt out, he said.

Mill co-owner Keith Van Scotter announced earlier this month that an explosion of a recovery boiler at the mill on Nov. 2 forced the indefinite but not permanent layoffs. He and other company officials have said they will not seek to replace the boiler, a key element to the papermaking components of their mill, until market conditions improve. Such boilers can cost as much as $100 million to replace.

The mill’s three tissue machines continue to run, company workers have said.

In a petition the company filed on Dec. 16 with the U.S. Department of Labor seeking job retraining and employment services for the 200 affected workers, company officials also disclosed that the loss to an Indonesian tissue-maker of a contract to produce tissue for a domestic customer caused the job loss. The petition did not mention the explosion. It cited Thursday as the day when the last of the layoffs will occur.

“They have decided to take their supply from the Indonesians rather than Lincoln. It is disappointing. It is a business loss for Lincoln,” Lugdon said.

“You need to compete with people who are putting out wider sheets and more tonnage with newer machines. There is some expansion in domestic tissue market, one or two percent annually, but the problem with that is that once people see that they can make money making tissue, they jump into that market,” he added.

The layoffs are expected to have a powerful impact upon the Lincoln Lakes region, which is about an hour north of Bangor off Interstate 95. Lincoln’s town government offers a home heating assistance program and the town supports the Lincoln Regional Food Cupboard and Resource Center, Town Council Chairman Steve Clay said.

Since the program began in 2006, more than 100 local families have received home heating aid, town records show. The busiest year was 2009, when 31 families received $7,470 in home heating donations through the program.

As of Oct. 31, the program had $12,400, Town Clerk Shelly Crosby said Thursday. Since the cold weather and layoffs began, three to five clients or families have applied for aid. Town officials are reviewing applications now.

Anyone interested in donating, and any Lincoln resident interested in applying for aid, should contact the Town Office at 794-3372. Checks can be mailed to Town of Lincoln, 63 Main St., Lincoln, 04457, care of heat and fuel assistance donation program, Crosby said.

Clay said the council will discuss several ideas to help the workers, but that the town is constrained by its own limited budget. The council will meet at 7 p.m., Monday, Jan. 13, Clay said.

He is considering calling a special council meeting to discuss the mill and workers’ situation “but I don’t think it warrants one right now,” Clay said.

Town Manager William Lawrence has contacted Gov. Paul LePage and Maine’s federal delegation to see what help can be given to the workers and the mill. All have pledged to deliver whatever aid they can, Lawrence has said.

Lugdon encouraged residents and businesses to donate to the town’s food cupboard. Cupboard workers have established two accounts for food and home heating donations at Lincoln Maine Federal Credit Union, 171 West Broadway, Lincoln, 04457. Donors should mark on their checks whether the donation is intended for food or fuel relief, Lugdon said.

“Every dollar they [workers] can save can pay their mortgages or their other obligations,” Lugdon said. “They are trying to stretch their dollars. When you don’t have a job, that’s what we have to do.”

Watch bangordailynews.com for updates.

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