BANGOR, Maine — Though it happened several states away, the story told in the HBO documentary film “The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant” could have been set here in Maine.
The 40-minute film, which was screened Friday night at the Bangor Opera House by special permission from HBO, tells the story of the December 2008 closure of a General Motors assembly plant in Moraine, Ohio, through the eyes of some of those most affected — namely the 2,500 workers who lost their jobs.
Workers who have been through layoffs in eastern Maine and had a chance to preview the film say it is an accurate and moving portrayal of workers’ experiences in the aftermath of a plant closing.
The film’s message is particularly pertinent to Mainers, who in recent decades have seen the departure of jobs in a variety of once-traditional industries, ranging from shoe manufacturing, papermaking and textiles to poultry farming and processing.
“It’s the same story being told over again,” said Brewer resident Randy Tompkins, who lost his job as a back tender at the former Eastern Fine paper mill in Brewer when it shut down in January 2004.
“No one is immune to this. No one is too employed to be unemployed. There’s just no security,” said Tompkins, 48. “It’s not just here in Maine — it’s an epidemic everywhere. The ‘Last Truck’ could be coming to your town.
“I’ve lived it and still am living it — and I’m not the only one,” he said, adding, “I still dream of running those paper machines.”
For Tompkins, who was a papermaker for 18½ years, the mill closure marked the second time he was laid off by circumstances beyond his control. The first time was in 1985, when American Felt and Slipper closed its Brewer plant five years after he landed a job there right out of high school.
As part of Friday’s screening, the labor group brought in Paul “Popeye” Hurst, who appears in the documentary and who made the trip to Maine from his Ohio home.
“Like I say, you could substitute the last shoe factory, the last mill, the last reporter,” Hurst said in an interview before the screening. “What happened in Ohio is relevant to what’s happening throughout this whole country.”
Asked about the aftermath of the GM plant shutdown, Hurst said, “Most of the highest-paying jobs in Ohio now come with the punch line, ‘Do you want fries with that?’”
Besides the wages and benefits, what Tompkins most misses about his work as a papermaker is the camaraderie, the way he and his colleagues pulled together in times of need, such as during the Ice Storm of 1998 and when a worker experienced a death in the family.
The film screening was followed by a panel discussion featuring keynote speakers Hurst, Communication Workers of America President Larry Cohen and Kevin Gregory, a Maine millworker and peer support worker. Other panelists included a farmer, a child care worker, a former DHL worker and others involved in the fight to improve the lot of the nation’s working class.