Some workers at the Wickliffe paper plant have already left work for the last time. This, after the Verso Paper Mill announced in August it would idle indefinitely.
Friday morning, 11 more workers swapped their badges and security passes for exit packets. Those packets have information on going back to school, counseling and more.
Mike Mazzone with the Verso Paper Plant says 300 workers will be laid off by Nov. 15. Twenty workers will remain in a caretaker role after that. Caretakers will make sure the plant idles safely. Since the announcement, workers have cleaned the plant, slowly shutting down equipment.
But before all are dismissed, the local union had one more point of business to take care of. Since 1970, workers with the Local 680 maintenance department donated portions of their paychecks to a union charity fund. But the union chose to use the fund as an opportunity to give back.
At a time when local 680 workers could reclaim their contributions when they need them most, they chose instead to give back. Union spokesperson Bill Schnuck says the question of keeping the Flower Fund's $19,000 to themselves wasn't a question at all. "We've always given to the community," he says. "The place has been good to us. We've made a good living, and we just felt we needed to give back."
Schnuck says, as a union, they wanted to care for their communities' children by donating to four area schools. The largest donation was to the Ballard County School Family Focus Backpack program for $9,000. The program keeps more than 90 students fed through the weekend.
Kelly Wray coordinates the program. She says the single donation will sustain the program for the next three years.
"It's amazing people have that kind of heart when they go through a tough financial time, but it says so much for our community," says Wray.
The $19,000 donation from the Local 680 will impact more than 500 people.
Schnuck says it's just a family giving back to family, with their final gift of gratitude.
"I was always told something good will come out of something bad, and this is something good," Schnuck says.
The union maintenance department started the Flower Fund over 45 years ago through paycheck contributions. It was initially intended to help provide food and flowers to their employees and families who became sick or passed away, but it grew to help even those outside the employee group —to help everyone in the community.
They union donated almost all of the funds today, but they did keep some funds to help their employees going forward.
The donation went to the backpack programs in the four county schools most affected by the plant's closure: Ballard, Carlisle, Graves, and McCracken counties. The union also donated to the Silver Bells program to buy Christmas gifts for those in need.
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