Future uncertain for employees after closure of Verso Mill

Published: Aug. 3, 2020 at 8:19 PM CDT
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WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wis. (WSAW) - Many people in Wisconsin Rapids are without a job Monday night after the Verso Paper Mill shut down production. Other Verso workers know their job there has an expiration date.

Wisconsin Rapids Mayor Shane Blaser says it’s striking to see nothing coming out of the smokestacks. Employees say the uncertainty of their future and the future of the mill is only starting to hit them.

“It probably hit more for me when we shut down the machine for the last time, hearing stock go off and the pump shut down. That was when the finality of it really hit me,” said Jason Zant, a materials processor at Verso.

Zant dedicated 11 years to the Verso mill. On Sunday, he walked out for the last time.

“I was a little angry, probably more out of fear than anything, cause I have to go find a new job now, and I got a wife and kid to provide for,” he said.

Others know their days at the mill are numbered. Brian Schweitzer has until the end of the month.

“There’s just a lot of uncertainty basically, we’re just kind of waiting. I don’t really think it’s hit everybody quite yet. It hasn’t hit the area quite yet either,” Schweitzer, a Local 94 union representative and Verso shipping department employee, said.

There are several potential buyers for the mill working behind the scenes, but nothing is set in stone.

“To replace the income, obviously, is going to be tough, and deciding what path you’re going to move forward, if you’re going to go to school, or if you’re going to get a different job,” he said. “Finding a stable job, finding a means to make it through, it’s just going to be tough on a lot of people.”

State Senator Partick Testin (R-Stevens Point) is one of the leaders of the Rapids Together Task Force to give workers and families resources and look at potential buyers. He says they will continue to support workers until the future of the mill is clear.

“We continue to work with Governor Evers and his administration through the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to see what incentives are out there to possibly attract a new buyer for the mill. We want to make sure this is a short idle and not a long-term situation,” Sen. Testin said.

Sen. Testin said they’re continuing a bipartisan effort to explore those options not only at the state level, but also with U.S. Senators Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), as well as Congressmen Ron Kind (D-3rd District) and Tom Tiffany (R-7th District) at the federal level.

Employees say they’re hopeful that the task force stepping up will help ease the transition.

“A lot of people are willing to help, a lot of people are coming together, so that does give me some sort of hope,” said Zant. “It’s just going to be hard, cause everything you’ve known for the past decade, and for some people a lot longer, is suddenly up in the air.”

They’re also leaning on each other.

“That’s one of the things that’s been keeping me going, mainly my co-workers. Just leaning on everybody, trying to stay together with them,” said Schweitzer.

“There’s no doubt this is a very difficult time, not just for the Rapids area, but for all of Central Wisconsin… we’re trying to stay as optimistic as possible. We’re trying to do everything we can to make sure we can get that plan up and running sometime in the near future. Even though the mill is idled right now, our efforts don’t stop,” said Sen. Testin.

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