Congress members, Luke Mill owner scheduling meeting to discuss Western Maryland paper factory's closure

Federal lawmakers from Maryland and West Virginia have demanded a meeting with the owner of the Luke Mill, a Western Maryland paper factory shutting down this month.

A Verso Corp. spokeswoman said CEO Les Lederer “expects to have a conversation” with the members of Congress and officials are working on scheduling the meeting.

Politicians expressed anger and concern last month when Ohio-based Verso announced it would close the 131-year-old Luke Mill by the end of June, later moving up that closure to no later than May 31. The mill employs 675 people who are spread across Maryland and West Virginia.

On Monday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers representing the two states sent a letter to Lederer saying their constituents “deserve to know what Verso Corporation’s plans are for the future of the plant.”

They also urged the company to fairly compensate the employees being laid off, saying they “deserve consideration that is similar to what Verso Corporation provided to recently departed President and CEO Chris DiSantis,” they wrote.

DiSantis stepped down in April.

They said a meeting also is needed to discuss continuation of water and wastewater service for the town of Luke in Allegany County.

“The communities that have kept Luke Mill running since 1888 deserve better than to be left in the lurch,” the lawmakers wrote.

Signing the letter were: U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, both Maryland Democrats; Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat; Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican; Maryland Congressmen David Trone, a Democrat; and West Virginia Congressman David McKinley, a Republican.

Verso spokeswoman Kathi Rowzie said the company is working with state and local government agencies, nonprofits and other companies to help find jobs for the Luke mill employees. She said the company has also submitted information with U.S. labor officials so that the employees can be considered for federal Trade Adjustment Assistance, which can provide money for job training and other benefits for laid off workers.

Eligible hourly employees at the mill will be paid a severance allowance in accordance with local collective bargaining agreements, Rowzie said. Verso and the United Steelworkers union, which represents the bulk of mill workers, began bargaining Tuesday over other possible benefits, such as continued health insurance.

Salaried employees will receive severance under Verso policy, as well, she said.

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