JAY, Maine (From news reports) -- Pixelle Specialty Solutions announced Wednesday, Oct. 28, it would reduce its workforce by 67 more employees in connection with an April 15 explosion of a pulp digester, Androscoggin Mill Manager Eric Hanson said in a news release.
The reduction affected both salary and hourly employees.
The cause of the explosion is still under investigation.
This is the third time since July the workforce has been cut, bringing the total laid off to 177.
"No one foresaw, wanted or caused the rupture that led to these unfortunate reductions of valued team members. We will provide those affected with compensation, benefits, and job placement assistance," according to Hanson.
The mill continues operating safely and utilizing its two operating paper machines to produce specialty products to meet the needs of its customers, according to the release.
Mill officials said they expect to complete remediating the rupture site, determining the root cause of the rupture and developing a long-term plan in the fourth quarter of 2020. "As we have stated, this process is time-intensive and we need to execute correctly to help ensure long-term success," Hanson said.
"The mill's employees are extraordinary," he said. "With the digester rupture occurring in the middle of the pandemic and its related impacts, they have operated the mill in a safe and environmentally responsible manner and provided exceptional product quality and service to our customers."
The mill established a new pulp supply with purchases from other Pixelle mills and resumed paper manufacturing by April 23.
"Our thoughts are with the 67 employees, along with their families and the community members that are affected by today's announcement," Town Manager Shiloh LaFreniere wrote in an email Wednesday. "Although we recognize the necessity of this downsizing for Pixelle, due to the explosion this spring, we feel for those who are affected and continue to hope that these changes contribute to the long-term success of the mill and the remaining employees.
The Maine Department of Labor will be working with those who lost their jobs.
"Our Rapid Response team is in the process of contacting the company and offering Rapid Response sessions for those affected," department Communications Manager Jessica Picard said in an email. "We also provided Rapid Response services in July and September."
The Rapid Response team has been working with affected mill workers since July and continues to do so.
"We have assisted them with applying for unemployment insurance, provided them with Rapid Response virtual sessions and information/resources," Picard said. "When the department is made aware of layoffs, our Rapid Response team connects with the company to offer informational sessions and services. These sessions with affected workers, which have been virtual during the pandemic, provide information on unemployment insurance, CareerCenter resources and training options available, and health care information."
Once the informational sessions are held with the affected employees, they are encouraged to reach out to the department if they have any more questions, she said.
The 67 additional layoffs leave 281 employees at the mill.
At the mill's peak under International Paper, prior to 1990 there were about 1,500 employees. In 2006, when IP sold the mill to CMP Holdings LLC, there were about 1,000 employees. Earlier this year, Verso Corp. sold the mill to Pixelle Specialty Solutions and there were about 500 employees.