Radio Address: Dill says aid forlaid-off workers, economic development crucial in wake of mill closures

Posted: October 02, 2015 | Senator Dill, Weekly Radio Address

News that two more Maine paper mills are poised to close by the end of the year hit our state like a hurricane this week. As your representatives in Augusta, lawmakers must come together to forge a path forward.

Hello. I’m Sen. Jim Dill from Old Town.

Sen. Jim Dill of Old Town

Sen. Jim Dill of Old Town

I live in one of the communities where a mill is closing its doors, possibly for good. I also represent many of the towns called home by the workers at both mills. Sadly, no one can guarantee that new owners will swoop in to buy the mills and keep them open. If history is any indication, we must prepare for the worst.

That means the four hundred or so workers at the Expera mill in Old Town and at Lincoln Paper and Tissue face near-certain layoffs.

The men and women who stand to lose their jobs through no fault of their own must be our highest priority at this difficult time. That’s why I’m submitting an emergency bill to assist any mill worker who loses their job as a result of a closure. That means job training, transition services or even financial assistance. We must ensure that our neighbors land back on their feet if the doors to the mills are shut for good.

I urge my colleagues in the House and Senate, as well as Gov. LePage, to work with me to make sure we do everything we can to keep these workers afloat.

Our communities, and our state, are at a crossroads. While Maine’s pulp and paper industry continues in places such as Rumford, Jay, Madison and Baileyville, mill closures have become an all-too frequent occurrence. The mills in Lincoln and Old Town, in Bucksport and in East Millinocket, provided good-paying jobs to highly skilled employees. Those jobs cannot be replaced at the local fast food restaurant.

The challenges facing the industry are complex. International market forces, supply and demand concerns and aging equipment all conspire to make it harder and harder to keep the paper machines running. The owners of the Old Town mill cited wood costs and the Canadian exchange rate in their decision to close for good. Lincoln Paper and Tissue said the company was unable to recover from the fallout of a boiler explosion at that mill in 2013.

As I said, taking care of laid-off mill workers is the immediate concern. But the long-term priority must be on a vision that supports our current manufacturing base while growing the jobs of the future.

But an economically viable future is only possible if we put our perceived differences aside and work together. Scapegoating, finger-pointing or political maneuvering are not a jobs creation platform.

Democrats are and always have been willing and able to sit down with our Republican colleagues in the Legislature and the Blaine House to come up with a plan to make that vision a reality. I look forward to the coming legislative session, when we can get down to the important work of protecting workers and creating jobs.

I’m Sen. Jim Dill. Thanks for listening.