Statement from Maryland Climate Coalition Groups on Luke Mill

In solidarity with the 675 hard-working members of United Steelworkers Local 676 who are about to lose their jobs at the 131-year-old paper mill in Luke, Maryland, we express our extreme shock, anger, and disappointment with Verso’s decision to close their plant as soon as May 30th. Our thoughts immediately went to how these workers—who show up on the job every day while putting their own health on the line breathing toxic gas and dangerous, lung-irritating chemicals —will find new, good union jobs with family-supporting wages in a part of our state that already struggles economically. These workers deserve to have Verso protect their pensions and medical benefits while they train and earn certifications for new employment. We urge a supplemental investment of millions of dollars from state and local funds for training for these workers, including opportunities for those nearing retirement, and healthcare for both them and their families during their transition.  

As we’ve advocated for policies in Annapolis to ensure healthy air and combat pollution- causing climate change, we acknowledge the disagreement between labor and environmental groups over whether Maryland’s law designed to spur new clean energy development should include subsidies for paper waste burned at Luke Mill. We also acknowledge that we need to do more in collaboration with workers and their unions to support the creation of new, family-sustaining wage jobs with the potential for unionization in the emerging clean energy economy.

The 2019 Clean Energy Jobs Act is a good start. We were proud to follow the lead of labor leaders to include worker protection language, such as local hiring requirements and investments in apprenticeships, to help ensure that the 20,000 jobs projected to be created with the passage of this law will be good jobs that provide a family-sustaining wage. We appreciated that labor leaders testified in support of the bill. More bold policies and advocacy are needed to ensure that union jobs are created in the wake of the clean energy revolution—a recognition made more urgent with the sudden closure of the paper mill in Luke.  

In the meantime, we stand with the Steelworkers and pledge to follow their lead in fighting to protect worker pensions and health care and promoting new investment in the region. We call on the companies investing in clean energy generation, such as solar power, to explore the creation of good, union jobs in Western Maryland. We commit to helping facilitate a transition for workers who are able to utilize available workforce training dollars to build their skills and qualify for certifications in job titles in demand within the clean energy and other industries.  Finally, we will leverage our relationships with these companies and with policymakers in Annapolis to ensure long-term, family supporting wage, union job creation, and investment in training for workers transitioning into the clean energy economy.

Signatories:

Chesapeake Climate Action Network
Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility
Climate XChange
Climate Change & Policy Project
Energize Maryland
1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East
Interfaith Power & Light (DC.MD.NoVA)
Labor Network for Sustainability
Maryland League of Conservation Voters
Sierra Club Maryland Chapter