Sunday, March 24, 2013

Strike ending: Union updates members before resuming work at Nippon mill Monday

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Unionized employees of the Nippon Paper Industries USA mill file into a meeting at the Moose Lodge in Port Angeles on Saturday for a briefing by the Association of Western Pulp & Paper Workers. -- Photo by Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — The strike of 130 unionized workers at the Nippon Paper Industries USA plant will end at 7 a.m. Monday morning, when the workers begin returning to their jobs at the mill.

At least 50 members of the International Association of Western Pulp & Paper Workers Local 155 gathered at the Moose Lodge in Port Angeles for 90 minutes Saturday afternoon.

They heard in the private meeting about the status of contract negotiations after union officials Friday called off the contract-related strike that began Wednesday.

Greg Pallesen, vice president of the international union, said after Saturday’s meeting that union members were given the status of negotiations and told about the next steps, although he did not offer specifics. 

When asked what’s next, Pallesen said: 

“We’re going back to work.”

An unfair labor practice complaint by Local 155 of the Association of Western Pulp & Paper Workers continues, he said.

Also, union talks will continue with the company, but not until mediation with federal mediator Kathleen Erskine.

“I can’t imagine talks happening before then,” Pallesen said Friday.

A session is now scheduled for the first week of April, but it could be earlier depending upon Erskine’s schedule, Pallesen said.

The plant, which has been shut down since workers walked off the job at 11 a.m. Wednesday, should be back in production by Monday night or Tuesday, Mill Manager Harold Norlund said Saturday.

He said he doesn’t yet know how much the shutdown cost the company.

Steam seen rising from the plant Saturday is because “we have the heat on in the building” to protect the plant, Norlund said.

No pickets could be seen at the plant Saturday.

Local 155 officials notified the company at 2:30 p.m. Friday that workers will unconditionally return to work Monday, union bargaining board member Rod Weekes said.

The company announced publicly about 4 p.m. Friday that work would resume Monday.

The five-person bargaining board, which includes AWPPW area representative John Minor, voted unanimously to have the employees return to work, Weekes said Friday.

Union members walked off the job after a unanimous strike vote, following Nippon’s implementation last Monday of a contract that union members had rejected.

Norlund had said the contract was the company’s “best and final offer.”

On Saturday, Norlund said he couldn’t talk about the terms of the offer.

Both Norlund and union representatives said that they have been in negotiations for 22 months, but they offer different reports on what has been discussed.

Minor had said last week that the two sides had not broached economic topics such as wages and benefits.

Norlund said Saturday that the two sides have talked about “economic issues” since May.

He said that “economic issues tend to be wages and benefits.”

A written statement from Nippon said that it was no longer competitive with other paper mills that have lower operating costs, and it “desires changes in the labor contract that will be both short- and long-term reductions.”

Copies of the company’s contract offer and the union’s counteroffer were not available.

“We felt we weren’t at an impasse, and they said we were,” Weekes said.

“We feel we have been heard, but our main goal is a fair and equitable contract at the bargaining table, not on the streets, not in the newspaper,” Weekes said Friday.

“We didn’t want to do irreparable harm to [Nippon],” Weekes added when asked why the strike had ended.

“We want this to be a successful company, and we want to be part of it.”

Norlund, announcing the end of the strike in an email Friday afternoon, said:

“We look forward to welcoming our union-represented employees back to work.

“We also look forward to continued negotiations with the AWPPW to conclude an agreement.”

The AWPPW had filed a charge against Nippon with the National Labor Relations Board that was related to the stalled talks.

It accused the company of refusing to bargain in good faith, saying it engaged “in bargaining with no intention of reaching agreement.”

Local 155 officials amended that charge last Monday after the company imposed the contract.

In the amended charge, the company is accused of “unilaterally changing terms and conditions of employment when it implemented its last and final offer in the absence of impasse, and while information from the union remains outstanding.”

Local 155 wants to look at Nippon’s financial statements “to get a true read on the finances,” Weekes said last week.

The charge will be ruled upon in six weeks to two months, NLRB Regional Director Ron Hooks said.

Pallesen said that the AWPPW will not withdraw the charge.

“The charge won’t go away,” he said.

The strikers had stood in driving rain and cold winds in shifts around the clock, and Weekes said he was impressed by the community support from motorists on Marine Drive.

“We got a lot more honks than finger waving,” Weekes said.


Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at

Reporter Jeremy Schwartz and Managing Editor/News Leah Leach contributed to this report.

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