SOMETHING STINKS AND IT’S NOT THE MILL
This has been a devastating week for the Wisconsin Rapids area as Verso announced the closure of the paper mill. This mill produces clay-coated paper used for advertising. My father is among the roughly 800 workers in this area who will be losing their jobs.
This is an appropriate time to express anger, sorrow, frustration, and empathy. It is an appropriate time to try to find solutions. But it is not the time for partisan scapegoating from an elected official. Yet that was how Representative Scott Krug chose to express himself.
The coded language he used when assessing the cause of the mill closing, citing “forced shutdowns,” was a direct swipe against our governor. Let me remind you that many other governors also chose to shut down their states due to the pandemic.
These shutdowns might not have been necessary if the federal government had been better prepared in the first place. The president had ample warning in January and February, but instead chose to call the pandemic a hoax.
The federal government had the opportunity to purchase test kits through the World Health Organization. When an American manufacturer contacted a federal agency regarding the manufacture of N-95 face masks, the federal government could have agreed to have that company develop this protective equipment. They did not. The whole reason for the shutdown was to avoid overburdening hospitals that were already dealing with supply shortages.
I worked in the print industry for newspaper and magazine publishers. There has been consistent down-sizing in the industry as fewer and fewer people subscribe to printed publications of all sorts. One could say that the internet killed print media, and they would not be far off. But let’s dig in deeper. Who uses clay-coated paper?
Sale papers and coupon flyers are printed on clay-coated paper, and while some are mailed out separately, many are included in newspapers. Most magazines are printed on clay-coated paper, including many news magazines. Which political party has been asking that Americans distrust the vast majority of news outlets? Which party has a president who calls peer-reviewed journalism “fake news” while promoting dangerous conspiracy theories that take root and spread online?
Having worked in the news industry, I can say that publishers worked twice as hard to try to attract and retain conservative customers because even the most objective reporting was constantly labeled as having a liberal bias. Representing two opinions is one thing, but there are not two competing sets of facts. There can only be one truth. However, we have roughly a third of the nation that fails to acknowledge reality.
Someone like Representative Krug depends on people failing to acknowledge facts so that he can keep his seat in the Assembly. Any opportunity he is given, he will take a partisan jab.
When a corporation chooses to shut down operations at one of their plants, there are often numerous reasons. Blaming anyone outside of the corporation is pointless. I could point fingers at all of the people who don’t buy newspapers or magazines and say they are the ones at fault for all this, but did they have the authority to shut down the mill? Of course not. Neither did Governor Evers. Only Verso, and its shareholders, have that power.
Verso never shut down operations during Safer at Home. In fact, employees were still expected to work overtime. If there was a decline in clay-coated direct mail pieces, no one I know seemed to notice. In fact, my family and friends all commented on how odd it was to continue to receive sale papers and coupons for places that were trying to limit the number of customers in their store at any given time. These types of correspondence that aim to draw people to shop were things we all expected to be less commonplace during quarantine.
Verso has cited COVID-19 as a culprit in reducing the demand for clay-coated paper, but that demand has been waning for years. The mill was always for sale, and the company had filed for bankruptcy previously.
I know from having conversations with workers that everyone experienced a great deal of uncertainty ever since George Mead first sold the mill in 2000 to Stora Enso. No one felt particularly secure. It was never a matter of if they’d lose their jobs, but when. But that truth is something that is unlikely to be said by someone who does not embrace reality.