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May 14, 2019

Verso owes more than just answers

Credit: Cumberland Times-News

The Verso Corporation’s decision to shut down Luke mill has pulled the rug out from under the mill employees, the town of Luke, and the entire region.

In the days following the company’s abrupt announcement, we spoke with Verso’s CEO, the Steelworkers, and state and local officials.

We went to Luke mill to speak directly with the employees. We reviewed the company’s public financial statements. And, we worked together to marshal resources for the employees and other residents impacted by this decision.

We believe the Verso Corporation owes the employees and families of Luke mill answers. First, it is incumbent upon the company to show that this closure is in full compliance with all legal and contractual obligations.

Second, Verso should work together with state, local, and federal officials to find a new investor for the mill. These workers are among the best in the world, and they deserve an employer who respects their grit, talent, and skills.

Third, at a minimum, the company must continue to maintain and operate the water and sewer systems and provide a written plan for long-term operations and maintenance so that the people of Luke and the surrounding area will not be further injured by the closing.

This isn’t the first time that Verso has abruptly closed a plant and left a town in the dark. In October 2014, Verso announced that it would close a paper mill in Bucksport, Maine, before the end of the year. The announcement caught the employees and the town by complete surprise.

The best businesses in the world seek win-win outcomes that respect workers, the community, and the company’s bottom line.

From everything we have found at this point, it seems clear that Verso learned no lessons from the closure of the Bucksport mill and continues to act in a way that chases profit with little concern for their other responsibilities.

As a delegation, we have stood up for the jobs of Luke workers and intend to continue this fight now harder than ever before.

It’s no secret that U.S. manufacturing, including the paper mill, has faced serious threats from globalization and foreign production. To combat these threats, we have worked to implement policies that level the playing field.

We’ve fought to eliminate tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas. With the mill in mind, the Maryland delegation has fought tooth and nail — and succeeded — in mitigating the threats posed by China and Indonesia unfairly dumping coated paper products in the U.S. market.

This week, we will be at the job fair in Allegany County ready to help those affected with anything they may need. And, we are working together to urge the Trump administration to fast-track a decision on Trade Adjustment Assistance, which will fund apprenticeship and job training programs for Luke.

As we continue to seek answers, we will not lose sight of the workers who have been blindsided by this move.

We will not only fight for the economic livelihood of those impacted by this closure, but we will also work to make sure that Verso leaves behind the Luke mill factory in a condition that will allow us to welcome something new in its place.

We will fight for the workers at Luke mill, their families, and the future of the region that has contributed so greatly to this country. They deserve better and we will do everything in our power to see that they get it.

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin

U.S. Sen.Chris Van Hollen

Rep. David Trone