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Mill workers say they need legislative help putting an end to mandatory overtime

The Twin Rivers Paper Company Madawaska mill taken on a snowy day April 9, 2020.
Morgan Mitchell
The Twin Rivers Paper Company Madawaska mill taken on a snowy day April 9, 2020.

Pulp and paper mill workers say they're being forced to work long hours of mandatory overtime, and they're calling on state lawmakers to fix the labor practices that they say are exhausting and dangerous.

During a public hearing Thursday afternoon, several workers said they've missed family obligations, vacations and other events. One described missing her final moments with her mother, because she was told she'd face consequences if she didn't come to work on her day off.

Dustin McGillan, who works for the Twin Rivers Paper Company in Madawaska, said he usually works three consecutive 12-hour shifts, with two or three days off.

"But oftentimes I find myself not rested at all. All too often a replacement doesn't show, and there's no one to take the call, turning my 12-hour shift into an 18-hour shift."

And Justin Shaw, who works at the Sappi mill in Skowhegan, said he and his coworkers have been forced to cover 24-hour shifts 17 times this year. He noted there have been some improvements, as the mill and his union have made a concerted effort to hire and fill vacant positions.

Still, he worries about the toll that long hours have on him and others during his commutes to and from the paper mill.

"It's not only a hazard to me, but every person I meet in that 70-minute drive. I've had many drives home that I cannot recall half of that ride," Shaw said. "We've had many individuals in the ditch with wrecked vehicles trying to keep up with the demands."

A bill from Senate President Troy Jackson would prohibit mills from mandating their employees to work more than two hours of overtime, unless they provide at least seven days' advance notice.

Paper company officials, as well as the Maine Forest Products Council, testified against the measure, arguing that mandatory overtime is a last resort when mills are short-staffed. They said the bill would negatively impact mill operations, and they argued that it should be up to labor unions, not the Legislature, to limit mandatory overtime through contract negotiations.