- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

BUCKSPORT, Maine (AP) - A union representing some workers at the 84-year-old Verso Paper mill has filed a federal lawsuit to halt the sale of the facility.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, representing 59 employees, is asking the court to block the sale to a scrap metal company and open the way for a buyer that would keep the mill operating.

Verso announced in October it would close, putting more than 500 people out of work. The mill stopped production this month and has said it will pay workers through the end of the year before officially laying them off.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Bangor, said Verso did not want to sell to a competitor in “an illegal conspiracy to monopolize the market for coated printing paper.”

Verso representatives did not return phone calls seeking comment. The mill’s owners have blamed the closure on high energy costs and decreasing demand for specialty paper made at the facility.

Verso announced last week that it plans to sell the mill to a subsidiary of Montreal-based American Iron and Metal, a scrap metal recycler, for $60 million. Verso representatives have said the sale is expected to be completed early next year.

The union’s lawsuit seeks an injunction to temporarily block Verso from selling the mill to any salvage company and require Verso to publicize the availability of the mill for sale. It also includes language to make the company pay severance to workers immediately after the layoffs.

Verso employee Don McLaughlin, who belongs to a different union, said word of the lawsuit traveled quickly through the mill’s employees. He said he hopes the lawsuit will make a sale to a new operator possible.

“Whatever they’re doing, they believe they are doing in the best interests of everyone,” he said.

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