Many of the 120 workers who are losing their jobs at the Androscoggin mill in Jay already have started training for work in other industries or found employment elsewhere, an official with the Maine Department of Labor said Thursday.

The layoffs of nearly a quarter of the mill’s workers were announced Wednesday as a result of Verso Corp.’s decision to permanently shut down the No. 3 paper machine at its Jay mill.

It wasn’t a surprising step. Verso announced in November that the machine would be idled temporarily, requiring layoffs of an estimated 190 workers, because of declining demand and “more coated paper capacity than could be filled.”

The year before that, the company laid off 300 people at the mill, whose employees are not unionized.

The latest layoffs will reduce the mill’s workforce to 400 employees.

Verso said last fall that the layoffs associated with the temporary idling would become permanent if the company couldn’t find enough customers for the products made on the No. 3 machine. Although local officials held out hope that the company would restart the machine, many mill workers spent the ensuing months searching for new work.

“Most of these workers have taken steps in case it was not a temporary layoff,” said Julie Rabinowitz, director of policy operations and communications for the Maine Department of Labor. “None of them were hanging out for Verso to make a decision.”

Rabinowitz said Thursday that her department was in contact with the workers when the temporary layoffs were announced last fall. A rapid response team, which helps workers of companies looking to downsize or close, met with affected workers and said they qualified for retraining programs.

The shutdown announced this week is expected to take effect Aug. 1 and be complete by the end of the third quarter of this year. It will reduce the mill’s capacity for coated paper production by about 200,000 tons a year.

Most of the products made on the No. 3 machine have been transitioned to lower-cost machines at other Verso mills, the company said.

Five mills in Maine have closed in the last few years – including the Madison Paper mill this spring, putting more than 200 people out of work – and more than 2,300 workers have lost their jobs since 2011 as the industry reels from declining global demand. Verso closed its Bucksport mill in 2014, eliminating more than 500 jobs.

Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton, said Thursday that he and Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, called Verso officials last winter and asked for a meeting to ask what they could do to help keep the machine running at the Jay mill. He said they called twice, but “they never met with us.”

Saviello said he had been hopeful that part of the mill would remain operational, but people who are choosing to read and shop online have helped bring on “the demise of the coated paper industry.” He said the fact that the industry lasted as long as it did was a testament to those who worked there.

Rabinowitz said the initial estimate was that 190 workers would be laid off, but that number probably was high to begin with and was closer to 150 by January.

In layoff situations, she said, companies often estimate toward higher numbers to ensure that they don’t have to double back and inform even more workers of potential layoffs.

Once layoffs were announced by Verso, Rabinowitz said, other employees might have opted to leave, further reducing the number affected.

“We’d rather prepare people for the worst and hope for the best,” she said.

Of the 120 affected workers, 70 are in training programs for new careers and 20 have been hired for different jobs at the mill. Another 30 decided to accept wage subsidies, which are available to older workers and help offset the lost wages for employees who find new jobs with lower pay.

Employees who lose their jobs because of the shutdown will receive severance pay, the company said.

Rabinowitz said the Department of Labor has been working with the affected employees for the last six months. Workers in training programs will go to schools such as Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield to learn new trades. She said employees have 30 days from the notice of a layoff to enter a training program, which is funded by grant money from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Saviello said Thursday that he was “extremely disappointed” to hear about the layoffs, and that his thoughts were with the employees who lost their jobs.

Saviello hoped many affected workers would take advantage of resources such as job training programs outlined by the Department of Labor, as many of those workers have skills they probably aren’t aware they have. He said many could go back to school, start a businesses, or just figure out what their other skills are.

Saviello said recent hires went through a strict screening process, which tells him they have the ability to work elsewhere. “I hope they can take advantage of that and realize there’s a life after papermaking.”

Colin Ellis can be contacted at 861-9253 or at:

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Twitter: @colinoellis