Department of Labor helps furloughed workers

OLD TOWN, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- The Department of Labor sent a rapid response team to Old Town Tuesday to meet with Old Town Fuel and Fiber workers and provide them with more information.

Old Town Fuel and Fiber announced nearly 200 employees would be off the job starting last week, as the mill suspended its operations indefinitely.

The Department's main goal is to explain how to sign up for unemployment benefits and what will happen to their health insurance through the company.

"Obviously this is a troublesome time for the people," Duane Lugdon, a representative for the United Steelworkers union, said. "They're trying to figure out what the future hold for them and their families, and obviously the most immediate need is providing for them, so that's what's on their minds."

The mill, which has changed owners over the years, was only selling market pulp without making paper on its own. Union representatives and industry professionals said that type of operational structure is no longer sustainable.

Old Town Fuel and Fiber announced the shut down after having problems with its boiler, which generates heat and power. The mill also faced high raw material costs, making it difficult to go up against foreign companies.

With several mills across Maine facing financial difficulties lately, the Department of Labor has had its hands full.

"We work very hard to respond to everyone's need, but it does put pressure on our system," Department of Labor official Judy Pelletier said. "We just respond as quickly as possible."

The Department of Labor is giving the employees four weeks to collect unemployment benefits without being legally required to look for a new job.


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