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  • Verso needs to be responsible to workers

    Editorial by Mark Eves, Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives

    I want to talk to you about Maine jobs and our economy – and an important value:  responsibility. Here’s what responsibility means to me.

    It means knowing that everyone who works hard and plays by the rules has an opportunity to succeed.  Or, said another way – it means knowing that everyone has to follow the rules and no one is allowed to cheat the system, especially when there are hard earned taxpayer dollars involved.  

    Responsibility applies to individual Mainers – and it applies equally, I believe, to corporations.

    I have a positive view of Mainers and Maine businesses.  They work incredibly hard and do their very best to succeed.  Ninety-seven percent of Maine employers are small businesses.

     And while we will always work hard to help Maine companies grow and attract and welcome new employers and new jobs to Maine – Maine is far more about Main Street values than Wall Street values.

    And there is the problem and the issue.

    This Christmas, one company, Memphis, Tennessee-based Verso Paper, does not think it has to play by the same rules as everyone else in Maine.

    While Verso was happy to accept millions of dollars in tax breaks and incentives funded by Maine taxpayers – it does not think it has to accept or abide by Maine law like the rest of us.

    One month ago, Verso CEO David Paterson told shareholders and the public that although the company had made the “difficult decision” to close its Bucksport paper mill, they were – and I quote – “committed to helping the Bucksport mill employees who will be affected by the closure.”  

    And yet only days before Christmas Verso officials and lawyers may ignore state law and not pay the severance due to 500 Maine employees on January 8th.

    Five hundred Mainers got up and went to work every day, many of them for decades.  They worked hard and played by the rules.  Losing their jobs is bad enough.  Playing games with the severance pay they have earned and are owed under state law is more than illegal.  It is wrong.

    Verso claims it wants to delay the payments until April.  But, if the intention is to pay the amount owed – what difference does 90 days make?  It is one quarter on a corporate calendar – but for the 500 Maine employees losing their jobs it is the difference between being able to heat their home and take care of their families this winter.

    The concern is that Verso is really trying to give company lawyers three months to find a loophole and avoid ever paying Maine employees what they are owed.  Those are Wall Street values.

    Those are the values that caused the Great Recession – the recession working families across Maine and across the country are still struggling to get out from under.

    If we want a Maine economy that encourages and rewards hard work, where everyone is responsible for doing their part, we can’t allow a company like Verso to take our public money – then ignore our laws and refuse to pay what they owe to 500 of our hard working neighbors. 

    The workers at the Bucksport mill earned their severance. They should be paid in full and on time. It’s the law. 

    I hope the Christmas message from Bucksport in 2014 is – no more.   Companies, just like the rest of us, are responsible for working hard and playing by the rules.

    I know all of us – from the Governor, the leadership of both parties in the Legislature and the Attorney General – plan to work together to pursue every option available to us to set this situation right and make sure we strengthen our laws, if necessary, to protect hard working Mainers going forward.

    After a long campaign season where we had many differences – I see that as a very positive and hopeful sign of our ability to work together and focus on a job creation agenda next year.