‘Everybody’s interest is the same’: USW Local 21 works with Billerud to find infection source
ESCANABA, Mich. (WLUC) - As blastomycosis continues to be diagnosed in Billerud paper mill workers, USW Local 21 is stepping up to help employees. USW Local 21 is the largest union at the Billerud paper mill in Escanaba.
“We represent 670 employees at the Billerud paper mill. We are the largest of the three unions that represent employees there. The Teamsters at IBEW also represent,” said Jamie Dier, first vice president of USW Local 21.
Public Health Delta Menominee Counties says there are 17 confirmed and 59 probable blastomycosis cases, totaling 76 cases in Delta County. The common thread is that every person works at the mill.
Blastomycosis is a fungal infection from moist soil, trees and leaves. Symptoms are similar to other respiratory infections and it cannot be spread from person to person.
“Everybody’s interest is the same and that’s the health and safety of the employees at the mill - whether they’re union, salary, contract or anything else,” said Gerald Kell, president of USW Local 21.
Right now, Local 21 is working with Billerud, the health department and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to determine where the fungal infection came from.
“There’s an ongoing investigation to try to determine sourcing but also to establish some change in protocols and practices to mitigate exposure moving forward,” said Kell.
Senator Ed McBroom (R-38th District) believes everyone is working well as a team to keep employees safe.
“I haven’t sensed any resistance from community leaders or from the mill leadership to try and get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible,” said McBroom.
On Sunday, a pancake breakfast will be at the Local 21 hall on Sheridan Road, hosted by Women of Steel.
“Which is a free-will donation. There will be pancakes, sausage, bacon, ham, eggs, juice, coffee,” said Dier.
It begins at 7 a.m. and continues through 2 p.m. All money raised will go to sick mill employees.
Read how blastomycosis is diagnosed here.
Click here to read more on how Billerud is working to find the source of this infection.
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