December 23, 2014
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 23, 2014
Media Contact: Julie Rabinowitz, cell: 557-1483
Agreement requires 50% payment on January 8 with penalties for non-payment of balance by March 19
AUGUSTA – As the workers enter their last pay period of employment with the Verso mill in Bucksport, the Maine Department of Labor and the Attorney General’s office have announced the filing of paperwork in Kennebec County Superior Court today that will both enforce state law on severance pay and to bring immediate relief in the form of a partial payment to the affected workers next month.
Under the legal order, Verso agrees to pay one half of the severance pay to each of the affected hourly employees by January 8, 2015, and agrees to pay the remaining severance on either the fifth business day after the completion of any sale of the Verso Bucksport Mill or by March 19, 2015. The January payment will also include final wages and any unused 2014 vacation pay. The payment due by March 19 will also include the 2015 vacation pay per the collective bargaining agreement. The total of all payments is expected to be at least $18 million.
“These workers are due every penny of severance they are owed under state law,” said Governor Paul R. LePage. “The agreement provides the affected workers with 50 percent of what is owed them up front with legal requirements and penalties if Verso does not meet the deadline for the balance of the payment. Rather than wait for court decisions that could be months away with uncertain outcomes, these workers will have money on hand to help them get through the holidays and the winter months while they make plans for their futures.”
“This agreement does not end the work that my administration is doing to keep the Bucksport facility as a viable asset,” the Governor added.
Commissioner of Labor Jeanne Paquette stated, “If Verso should violate the terms of this agreement, the Department remains prepared to enforce the severance law to the extent allowed by law. Since the Department can’t enforce a law until it is broken, and enforcement actions can take a long time, this agreement is better for the workers because it gives them immediate relief with additional compensation to come. I appreciate the efforts of all the parties involved to reach these terms and give peace of mind to families who are already facing a difficult situation.”
Maine Attorney General Janet Mills stated, “My office is pleased to help the administration and the workers resolve the outstanding issues regarding severance and accrued vacation pay to the benefit of all hourly employees. We will monitor the situation very carefully in the coming months to ensure full compliance with the court order. This order will go a small way to softening the financial blow to these hard working men and women from the Bucksport mill.”
“The United Steelworkers, Local 555 of the Office and Professional Work, which represent about 90 percent of the workforce, support the actions of the State of Maine and its Attorney General,” stated Duane Lugdon, staff representative of the United Steelworkers. “The settlement was the product of difficult and occasionally contentious negotiations where all participants sought to protect their interests. The Steelworkers, Local 555 of the Office Workers, and Local 1777 of the IBEW came to understand the advantages of a negotiated resolution, which will deliver payments to jobless Bucksport workers in the near term. This negotiated resolution is superior to litigation, which extends uncertainty for workers who should receive the benefits to which they are entitled.”
In the event of violation of the payment of the severance pay pursuant to the consent order, the state would file actions for severance under 26 M.R.S. § 625-B against Verso and potentially any parent corporation or direct or indirect owner, including shareholders. Penalties would include a fine of $1,000 per affected employee payable to the state and additional liquidated damages payable to the affected employees.
The state’s severance pay law is enforced by the Wage and Hour Division of the Bureau of Labor Standards of the Maine Department of Labor. Affected workers who do not believe that the severance pay provided to them as part of this agreement is accurate have 60 days in which to file a complaint with the bureau director.