Wednesday, July 29th: Full Committee Meeting
1. Updates from conversations with Verso – Rep. Krug and others
Rep. Krug noted that production at the mill had ceased and that the efforts of the task force and its members to assist the community and facilitate a transition for the mill needed to continue. All agreed.
Rep. Krug reported that he had talked with Adam St. John of Verso on July 28 and that negotiations with the unions are concluding, which is great, but despite the hopes and plans of all involved, people would be leaving the mill on Friday without answers and issues being resolved and THAT was not something anyone wanted to happen.
2. Updates on bargaining - union representatives, Verso representatives and others
Tim Pavlik of USW 2-94 reported that a tentative agreement had been reached but it had not been shared with union members at that time so he could not summarize it or comment on it; the union hoped to have office hours in coming days to share the details with members. Meetings would largely be remote due to covid. Mill manager Mike Glodowski indicated that Pavlik’s report concurred with his own understanding of the situation.
3. Updates from discussions with WEDC, DWD, Governor’s Office – Rep. Krug and others
- The Wisconsin Rapids Together web site (this site) was not the subject of significant suggestions or input, suggesting that most or all task force members and groups had made their initial contributions to the site and that these were now posted.
- Jane Spencer of the North Central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board reported that the Rapid Response effort has now been funded and that four group meetings had been held in July in a combination of live and online formats. At the meetings, employees learn about the dislocated worker program, job center availability, and related information. Further, Wisconsin DWD would soon be providing funds to allow individual meetings and efforts with affected workers. Finally, she noted that a training fair was held on July 28 and 29 and included representatives from area educational institutions including post-secondary and professional schools.
- Jane also reported that the application for TAA (Trade Adjustment Assistance) had been completed and submitted to the US Department of Labor and to the State of Wisconsin, and that TAA would bring more funding to assist workers if the application were approved. The application (it was noted at the end of the meeting) was filed jointly by Verso and by unions representing Verso employees.
- Krug noted that news coverage indicated that when Verso closed a mill in Maryland, omissions and shortcomings were observed in the services provided to workers; he indicated that the task force members had learned of this and were working to avoid similar happenings in Wisconsin Rapids.
- Krista Coon of the Heart of Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce reported that the job fair was being finalized and would be held September, 2, 2020 from 12:00 PM to 6:00 PM at East Junior High School Field House off 6th Street in Wisconsin Rapids. The event would include precautions against covid including pre-registration of attendees. Sen. Testin noted that staff from his office and from Rep. Krug’s office would be present to assist attendees with any issues involving state programs.
- Brian Conlan of Sen. Baldwin’s office reported on progress regarding federal legislation to extend unemployment payments past their looming expiration. He noted that much work was being done toward resolving the issues but that at that time the conclusion was uncertain and the timeline for action was unclear. Alek of Rep. Kind’s office concurred with the assessment.
- Missy Hughes of WEDC joined the meeting by video along with Stacey Johnson of WEDC. Hughes reported that WEDC is working with the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association on the effort to create a co-op that would buy and operate the mill. Hughes stated that WEDC is looking at ways to provide funding and legal assistance to the project. Further, WEDC is doing some proactive outreach to other potential buyers of the mill. Finally, Hughes said, WEDC has been in talks with UW-Stevens Point regarding the potential for longer-term options for the mill.
- Stacey Johnson of WEDC added that Canadian National (CN) was potentially altering some of the rail service that has served the Verso mill, and that this could affect the area and the prospects for the mill.
- Mayor Shane Blaser of Wisconsin Rapids commented that talks and information sharing continues, and that his office supports these efforts and that the goal of the city is to be ready when an opportunity surfaces.
- Paul Fowler of WIST reported that he had been communicating with and assisting the co-op effort as well.
4. Update on Forestry/Logging committee issues
Rep. Krug announced that the next meeting of the task force would be a “committee of the whole” meeting but would focus on issues impacting the forestry and timber aspects of the Verso situation.
5. Rapidstogether.com: Group discussion on site status
Tari Johns of the United Way of South Wood & Adams Counties announced that a PSA was running on local radio to raise awareness of the rapidstogther.com site and the resources available through the site.
- Superintendent Craig Broeren of the Wisconsin Rapids School District offered the estimate that the Verso closing would directly and immediately affect 100 families in the district, and that the ongoing covid situation would affect and influence the district’s efforts to assist students and respond to community needs. Broeren reminded the group that student counts would be available in September and some analysis of the counts would be ready in October. Rep. Krug indicated a need for him, Sen. Testin, and other lawmakers to try to assure that aid to the district would not be reduced any more than necessary by any decline in enrollment.
- Angel Whitehead of the Heart of Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce offered that the chamber would be partnering with Marshfield Clinic to create a series of videos offering instruction on skills such as resume creation, use of social media, job hunting, interviewing, etc. and that these would be produced weekly through August and into September.
- Jane Spencer of the North Central Wisconsin Workforce Development Board confirmed that the access to the Job Center in Wisconsin Rapids that has been specially opened up for Verso workers, will also be available to laid-off former employees of the casion in Nekoosa.
- Dan Baumann of Wisconsin DNR recapped the material his agency has supplied to the RapidsTogether.com site and affirmed DNR’s continued commitment to working with all involved on the many issues affected by the mill closing and by potential plans for the mill site. Baumann also affirmed DNR’s commitment to the forest products industry in Wisconsin.
6. Future meetings and related issues
It was arranged that the next meeting would be scheduled as a “committee of the whole” meeting for 10.00 AM on Wednesday, August 12 at Mid-State.