LIVERMORE FALLS — It was a year ago that we got the news. I remember getting called into a meeting with company officials and finding out that our mill, the Otis Mill, that had made paper in the Livermore Falls/Jay area for over 100 years, would be shutting down completely.

We were devastated. We thought we were doing all the right things, implementing changes during a tough economic time to get us through to better times.

We had just been told that we were on the road to recovery with reasonable contracts procured on energy and pulp materials along with a previous “restructure” that brought one of the paper machines to a standstill.

The Otis Mill would survive.

Now, the announcement of the closure of the whole mill, along with a statement that the facility could not be sold to any other paper-making company in North America, even though there was interest. This put everyone in shock and disgust.

I worked at the Otis Mill for 20 years, and it was a good job with good benefits.

Since those jobs left, people have really struggled to find work. The jobs that are out there pay much less and don’t offer benefits.

The impact has not just been on families, the “ripple effect” is on the entire community. The tax base has suffered, local shops have less business, the schools have less money, and everyone is feeling the impact.

People are struggling to maintain what has taken years to build, feeling depressed and anxious. Stress levels have been tremendous. There have been more health problems since people lost their jobs, and even premature deaths.

We know we are not alone, and that workers around the state are in a similar situation.

Our layoffs were certified under Trade Adjustment Assistance as being a result of an increase of imports.

As we have seen for over 15 years since the North American Free Trade Agreement, manufacturing jobs and other jobs have left our state. Maine has lost over 30,000 manufacturing jobs alone since NAFTA passed in 1994. In every county and dozens of industries, Mainers have lost out.

It’s not just NAFTA that has hurt us. Other NAFTA-style deals with other countries and the World Trade Organization have expanded these policies around the world.

These unfair trade deals have led companies to move production overseas where they don’t have to follow labor or environmental standards.

Workers make very little, have little safety training and are treated very poorly.

The environment is polluted when companies don’t follow any standards. How can we compete when we are not on a level playing field? Just in the paper industry, reports show that workers in paper mills in China make as little as $113 per month and only have two days off a month to rest.

Working conditions are unsafe. Illegally harvested timber supplies those mills, which creates deforestation in countries like Indonesia.

We have to fix this failed “free” trade model in order to keep jobs here in Maine.

We are talking about job creation a lot these days, but how can we be sure we will keep the jobs here?

A recent study by American University’s Department of Journalism found that 79 percent of the stimulus package funding for wind energy grants has gone to foreign firms. We have to change trade policy so that we produce things here again.

There is a bill that would do just this. The Trade Reform Accountability Development and Employment Act will review existing agreements to see what their impact has been.

It lays out standards for future trade agreements, like enforceable labor and environmental standards, and food and product safety standards.

Rep. Mike Michaud is the lead sponsor on the TRADE Act in the House of Representatives, and Rep. Chellie Pingree is an original co-sponsor on the bill.

I hope our Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins will continue their record of leadership on trade and co-sponsor the Senate TRADE Act.

We have to do something to keep and create jobs here in Maine. The TRADE Act is an essential part of this urgent effort.

I also urge every voter to hold our politicians accountable for their representation of our interests. Decent jobs in Maine should be a priority.