On Oct. 1, I was called to a meeting to hear an announcement from the company that runs the mill where I work. Verso Paper announced that day that it would permanently close most of the Bucksport mill on Dec. 1; the power plant in the mill would keep running.
Because I am one of the union presidents, I now had an obligation to inform my members of the life-changing news. There is nothing worse than telling workers they are going to lose their jobs.
The company closed this mill because it was unprofitable for a number of years, according to Verso. It was unprofitable in spite of years of the Bucksport mill workers doing all they could to make this company successful like it was before International Paper bought us in 2000.
Verso’s mill was unprofitable in spite of the state of Maine and the town of Bucksport giving all they could in the form of tax breaks through the state Business Equipment Tax Exemption and Business Equipment Tax Reimbursement programs and through local Tax Increment Financing arrangements. This company took all it could and promised that these tax breaks would secure jobs and the mill’s future. Yet four years later, Verso is shutting down most of its operation.
Verso is shutting us down without even listening to the workers and letting us work with them to keep it running or maybe letting us search for a buyer. When asked if the company had any intention of selling this mill so, maybe, someone else could come in and run it, company officials said they would, but not to a competitor and not until they sold the power plant.
It’s just plain wrong that companies can take from us — the state and municipalities — and not be held accountable. This has happened time and time again across Maine. From the Jay mill the Wausau Corporation shuttered to consolidate its market share to when Georgia Pacific destroyed machinery in Old Town so it could not be used again, companies take our money, run away with the profits, then put us all out of work.
This is one of the reasons I decided to run for the Legislature in State House District 130, which includes Bucksport and Orrington. If elected I will offer legislation to make it law that if a company takes tax breaks or taxpayer incentives and then decides it no longer wants to run an operation, it cannot refuse to sell that asset to somebody that has a chance of running it successfully. Many times, mills are closed that are profitable just so the company can control the market.
It is time that we stop letting these companies come in and take from area residents, then close up shop and leave the education, public safety, infrastructure and all other services that a town provides in jeopardy. This closure not only affects the mill workers but also the municipal workers and the business owners of Bucksport and the surrounding towns and cities. Companies should be accountable to the people who give them money to help them keep running.
Our grandparents built these mills across Maine. We have poured our sweat and blood into making them successful and making profits for these companies who come and go. Our communities have subsidized their success.
If a company is not interested in running a mill anymore, we deserve a fair shot at keeping these jobs in our communities. Companies that took tax dollars should have to make a good-faith offer of sale at fair-market value to another company, to the state, or to the workers who may want buy and operate it.
This is just one example of what we can do in Augusta to help manufacturing workers like us in Bucksport and across Maine.
Emery Deabay of Bucksport is a Democrat running to represent Bucksport and Orrington in the Maine House. He is president of United Steelworkers of Maine Local 1188.