Aug. 18--OLD TOWN, Maine -- Furloughed Old Town Fuel and Fiber employees can learn about unemployment, continuing health care coverage and job retraining among other topics at meetings scheduled this week by the Maine Department of Labor.
About 180 millworkers found out Wednesday the mill was closing. The company, owned by Lynn Tilton'sNew York-based private equity firm Patriarch Partners, blamed foreign competition and increasing wood and energy costs for the shutdown.
The rapid response session is 2 p.m. Tuesday at the United Steelworkers Local 80 union hall, located at 354 Main St. in Old Town. There will be another rapid response session for salary workers at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Bangor CareerCenter.
The Department of Labor will advise and assist employers and employees with information about their rights, responsibilities and obligations during a closure such as Old Town's, according to the agency, as well as evaluate what assistance programs are available.
"Old Town Fuel & Fiber is silent today -- another stark reality that all is not well in America and international trade agreements are killing us," said Duane Lugdon, United Steelworkers Union international representative for Maine, in a Saturday email to the BDN. "Over 200 families are worried sick about their future as a result.
"There are those who would perhaps blame her today for poor management, lesser commitment, withdrawing her support, leaving people high and dry, etc. But the truth is that she brought the Old Town mill out of the ashes of a bankruptcy, tried to contend with forces in the marketplace that are indeed gigantic forces and ultimately kept people afloat as long as she could," Lugdon said. "I choose not to demonize someone who has tried to do her best but who can't any longer meet the need.
"Getting the mill restarted will require new ownership that has an internal need for its pulp-making ability or a vision and the resources needed to add value to that pulp," he said later.
"I am convinced the Old Town mill has the ability to come back strong," Lugdon said. "It has the caliber of workers needed to succeed, and they have the will to do it. All they need is the chance. Lynn Tilton tried to give them that, but the cost of doing business as a stand-alone pulp mill were too great. I believe she is due a 'thank you' for trying, and I also hope that the dynamics of the paper industry in our nation change such that our heritage rich industry is once again able to sustain itself and the families that are employed in it."
Many of the millworkers temporarily let go last week have been through layoffs before, with the mill changing hands three times since papermaking giant Georgia-Pacific Corp. acquired it in 2000. Georgia-Pacific closed its doors in 2006, laying off 356 workers, and the plant reopened a year later as Red Shield Environmental, which went bankrupt in June 2008, laying off 160 workers. In 2008, Tilton's firm purchased the mill at an auction for $19 million and opened Old Town Fuel & Fiber.
"Although one can generally surmise that several, if not most, of these workers have been through a rapid response session before, we won't know until we hold the sessions," Julie D. Rabinowitz, spokeswoman for the Department of Labor, said Monday in an email.
To find out more about the rapid response program, contact your local CareerCenter. The Bureau of Employment Services provides employment and training services for Maine workers, businesses and job seekers through the Maine CareerCenter network at mainecareercenter.com.
An earlier version of this story reported the rapid response session for salary workers was at 9 p.m. Wednesday. It is 9 a.m. Also, Duane Lugdon's email to the BDN was sent Saturday, not Sunday.
(c)2014 the Bangor Daily News (Bangor, Maine)
Visit the Bangor Daily News (Bangor, Maine) at www.bangordailynews.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services