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Paper workers (USW) Push for Bill to Curb Forced Overtime

Andy O’Brien
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PHOTO: Lee Drouin (USW 449), Justin Shaw (USW 4-9) & Josh Bernier (USW 1247) at the State House on Thursday

On Thursday, members of the United Steelworkers who work at paper mills in Skowhegan, Madawaska, Rumford and Waterville turned out on Thursday to support legislation that would place restrictions on mandatory overtime and schedule changes for employees in the pulp and paper industry. At the hearing, paper workers described grueling work days as long as 18 hours with only a few hours in between to rest before another 18-hour shift.

“Time and time again paper mills in Maine put money before their workers,” said John J. Perry IV, President of USW 900 at the Nine Dragons Milll in Rumford. “Forced overtime puts an extreme burden on our members’ personal lives. Our members also operate and maintain heavy machinery, which can be very dangerous when they haven’t had enough sleep. Forced overtime also presents a threat to our communities because exhausted workers are commuting to and from work after working these grueling shifts. One mistake on the road can be catastrophic.”

LD 1794, sponsored by Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook) would limit forced overtime for paper workers by:

  • Limit forced Overtime to a maximum of two hours beyond a regular shift one time per week.
  • Advanced Notice: mills must give seven days advance notice to mandate someone for overtime.
  • Workers cannot be disciplined for refusing forced overtime without seven days notice.
  • Safeguard vacation time by preventing companies from mandating people work overtime on approved vacation time, floater days and holidays.

USW member Susan Deschaine, who works at the Twin Rivers Paper in Madawaska, told committee members how she ended up being called in on her day off after working an 18-hour shift while her mother was on her death bed, dying of cancer. Despite her attempts to get the day off with her mother, her supervisor told she had to go in for another shift in six hours.

“Even after I told him I was not going in that night because my mother was on her death bed he was adamant that I go in or there would be consequences. Being scared to lose my job, I went in that night,” said Deschaine.

When she arrived that evening, a coworker asked what she was doing there because the supervisor asked him to replace her for the shift due to her mother's declining health condition.

“I told him I wasn’t made aware that I had been replaced by him. We went in to see what was going on,” she continued. “When we got to our department our supervisor was waiting and said it was good I went in because they couldn’t replace me. I told him that my coworker had come in to replace me. He said I was being upgraded because someone else had called out sick and he made me stay for the shift. In essence, he lied to my coworker to fill in another position. My family was by my mother's side while I was forced to work. An hour and a half into the shift my mother passed away. I missed my last moments with my mother because I was forced to work on my day off.”

USW Local 449 President Lee Drouin, who works at the Huhtamaki mill in Waterville, said he used to sleep in his car at the mill in between 18-hour shifts because cutting out his 45-minute commute allowed him to get more rest. Local management refused to negotiate more humane shifts.

“Finally, one of our union leaders flew to Huhtamaki’s headquarters in Finland and met with their CEO to explain the situation we were facing in Waterville,” said Drouin. “The CEO was from a different culture in Finland and realized they couldn’t keep treating people like that, so they decided to eliminate 18 and 24-hour shifts at all of their mills. Without that meeting, we’d probably still be working those grueling shifts. Unfortunately, other paper mills are run by more ruthless companies that aren’t as concerned about the welfare of their workers. That’s why we support LD 1794 — to ensure all of our mills protect public safety and treat workers humanely.”