Finding a future for workers displaced by Sartell paper mill closure

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As the Verso Paper mill is being demolished in Sartell, the St. Cloud Times found that many workers who lost their jobs after a fire in May of 2012 closed the mill are still seeking work.

The story said that 356 former Verso employees were displaced by a major layoff at the mill late in 2011 or its closure months later and 142 are still searching for employment.

“Some have gone to work at mills in Becker or Duluth, or they’ve moved to the Dakotas and found something else. But when you’re talking about 300 or 400 people, you’re always going to have some who are going to have trouble,” said Lyle Fleck, president of the United Steel Workers local when the mill shut down.

According to data from the Stearns-Benton Employment & Training Council and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, 134 former Verso employees have received or are receiving retraining. Of the 86 people who have left the SBETC programming, 70 have gotten jobs.

“Other than about 10 years ago (in 2002) when there was the layoff (of 1,200) from Fingerhut, these people had the longest tenure of anyone we’ve ever worked with," said Kathy Zavala, executive director of the SBETC. "It’s not often you have that large of a displacement of people earning the wages they were.”

Verso Paper received an $84 million insurance settlement last year following the explosion and has paid out more than $16 million in severance and benefits.

Minnesota's paper, pulp and forestry industry has suffered with the closure of several plants due to the recession and a shift in the demand for some paper products.

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