Union to honor Luke mill workers

Greg Harvey

WESTERNPORT — Past and present workers of the Luke paper mill and their families are invited to attend an appreciation day on Saturday.

The event will begin at 2 p.m. behind Moran’s Lounge at the Tri-Towns Plaza in Westernport.

Greg Harvey, United Steel Workers 676 president, is the lead organizer of the event.

“It’s our last hurrah,” he said. “It’s a way of saying thank you.”

The mill’s current owner, Verso Corp., announced April 29 that the mill would close June 30. Production ceased last month.

The United Steel Workers represented 515 of the nearly 700 workers who lost jobs at the mill, which has served as the economic hub for the Tri-Towns for more than a century.

“The event is open to current union members and their families, retirees and their families, legacy Luke mill employees and their families past and present,” said Harvey, one of four generations in his family that has worked for the paper plant.

Elected officials and other local leaders have also been invited to the event.

The mill began in 1888 at the Piedmont Pulp and Paper Company, the first commercially successful sulfite pulp mill in the U.S. It was established by Scottish immigrant William G. Luke and his extended family.

The name was changed to the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Co. in 1897 and became Westvaco in 1969. Westvaco and Meade merged in 2001 and the paper mill became MeadWestvaco.

The Luke family sold the mill in 2005 after 117 years of ownership and it was reorganized as NewPage. NewPage merged with Verso in 2015.

Verso officials said the reason for the Luke mill closing was a drop in demand for freesheet coated paper, rising input costs and an increase in imported product. The closure ends 131 years of paper production at the site.

“We are going to have a screen set up with rolling photos on the mill through the years,” said Harvey. “We got a picture of the first rolls to come off the eight and nine machines and the last roll.

“We got 1,000 T-shirts to give away,” said Harvey. “We are going to have picnic foods like fried chicken and baked beans. We’ll have live music beginning at 6 p.m.

“It’s our way of saying we appreciate what you’ve done. We had a hell of a workforce. We made the C1S (one side gloss) paper. It’s the best sheet in the world. No one can make what we made here.”

Follow staff writer Greg Larry on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.

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