Buyout plan could reduce layoffs at Lincoln paper mill, union rep says

The Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC mill
The Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC mill Buy Photo
Posted Jan. 02, 2014, at 2:33 p.m.

LINCOLN, Maine — Lincoln Paper and Tissue LLC managers continue to remodel their mill to focus exclusively on tissue production as union members decide by seniority who gets positions remaining after the company announced plans to lay off approximately 200 workers last month, officials say.

Mill co-owner Keith Van Scotter declined Wednesday to say whether the 200 projected layoffs had all yet occurred. Duane Lugdon, a statewide United Steelworkers Union representative that handles the mill’s unionized workers, said Thursday that union workers have 45 days by law to decide whether to take positions guaranteed them by seniority or to opt for a retirement buyout plan that would allow younger workers to remain working.

The retirement plan could cut into the number of layoffs significantly, he said. Lugdon hoped to meet with representatives of United Steelworkers Local 396 on Thursday to discuss the retirement package, among other things.

“As some of these employees decide to retire, it makes room for those with less service so that they can continue working and taking care of their families,” Lugdon said. “There still remains a lot to do, not the least of which is providing the proof that Lincoln Paper and Tissue has been affected by the loss of customers through foreign trade.

“That important piece will enable some of the workers who get laid off involuntarily to take advantage of retraining and preparing for the finishing of their working days in a different career path,” Lugdon added.

Roger Zelkan, president of United Steelworkers Local 396, did not immediately return a message seeking comment on Thursday.

Van Scotter announced earlier last 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 round the clock, Van Scotter 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 of a tissue contract to an Indonesian firm caused the job loss. The petition did not mention the explosion.

As of Thursday, 40 families totaling 109 people had applied for home heating aid through the town government’s residents-only relief program, town Treasurer Melissa Quintela said. That nearly doubles the 23 families that applied during the milder winter of 2012-13, she said.

The impact of the layoffs, she said, probably hasn’t yet been felt by the heating-aid program, which has spent $8,216 of its $12,566 budget for the year buying about 2,300 gallons of No. 2 heating oil.

The layoffs are “so recent. I think [the client increase] is more due to the cold winter,” Quintela said.

Designed to complement federal and state home-heating aid programs, Lincoln’s venture probably will exhaust its budget before winter’s end. Quintela urged residents to donate to the program at Town of Lincoln, 63 Main St., Lincoln, 04457, care of heat and fuel assistance donation program.

Town officials probably will leave it to the Town Council to decide whether to allocate more money to the home-heating relief program, she said.

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