April 07, 2020

Millworkers’ lives

I am a union construction worker who has worked in paper mills across Maine. I have several questions for John Dowd (“Paper mill abuses,” BDN letter, Jan. 7). On a daily basis when you go to work, do you have to worry about any of the following:

Working with chemicals that could instantly eat your skin off on contact or spontaneously combust? Changing a liquor gun on a 10-story power boiler while it is running, knowing that it possibly could rupture since it has happened in the past? Working around high-pressure steam lines that could and have ruptured in the past? Going to work knowing there are substantial amounts of asbestos throughout your work place? Starting a sheet of paper on a machine that is turning 500 to 5,000 feet per minute by sticking your arm within inches of the machinery knowing you could lose a limb or your life? Having to wear a respirator at your job because there are occasional chemical leaks that are always potentially life threatening?

All of these instances have happened at paper mills across this state in the not-so-distant past and happen across the country. Whether you believe it or not, mill workers put their lives in jeopardy one way or another on a daily basis. The sky-high workers’ compensation rates for industrial employees will attest to the dangers of working in a paper mill.

Millworkers perform dangerous jobs in a dangerous environment and should be paid accordingly. To blame the paper mill woes on union labor is ridiculous when you consider the age of equipment and technology at a majority of the paper mills across the state, extremely high workers’ compensation insurance rates, lack of maintenance and updating of existing equipment, and the fact that numerous new state-of-the-art paper machines go online worldwide yearly.

How can old mills compete with the newer, higher producing, more efficient mills? No matter how much you cut a wage rate that old paper mill will still be putting out the same amount of paper it did 10, 20, 30, 40, or even 50 years ago. The mills in this state have neglected to invest and update their facilities, and, as a result, are at a point where they are borderline cost effective. Major investments into existing equipment and technology updates or new facilities, as well as working to lower Workers’ Compensation costs are what are needed to make the paper mills become more efficient and profitable in Maine — not reduced wages. Parrie Willette Old Town

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