USW secures domestic violence language in new Domtar, PCA contracts

Domestic and family violence and abuse, if not addressed with support and compassion, can have serious negative impacts on survivors’ health, safety, and economic security. The good news is that sound strategies and policies can alleviate these risks and help survivors get back on track.

This is why USW paper sector activists and leaders prioritized domestic violence language in the latest collective bargaining agreements at Domtar and Packaging Corporation of America (PCA).

Last summer, in 2021, sector leaders began looking at similar language already in place in Canada and recruited the help of District 1 Assistant to the Director Teresa Cassady, who is an advocate for domestic violence survivors, and is a survivor herself.

“This language is life-changing for members going through domestic violence in that they will know their job will be there if and when they need to go to a safe place or while they are going to court,” said Cassady. “It gives them one less thing to worry about.” 

The goal is to provide proactive support and training for everyone within a workplace, leave language, and a process for getting that language that is supportive while maintaining a high level of confidentiality for those involved.

Union leaders developed the majority of the language during the USW paper sector conference later that year, and introduced it that week during a town hall focused on women in the industry, hosted by Vice President Leeann Foster.

“All of our brothers and sisters have shown great support and interest, even company leaders,” said Breahn Quigley Knackert, who serves as Key Staff for the USW paper sector. “We knew we were on the right path.”

The union proposed the language for the first time in October 2021 with Domtar, followed by PCA mills. It also just secured the same language for workers at the PCA converter plants.

Some of the key components of this contract language include, but are not limited to: paid leave (which can be supplemented by additional unpaid leave and which does not use up members’ sick leave or vacation); requirement to prove the member is experiencing domestic violence that accepts proof from a wide range of sources, including local union officials, doctors, and spiritual leaders; protection from discipline; and employer commitment to safety planning and optional paid training for peer advocates.

“Our plan is to propose the same consistent language at the table moving forward,” said Foster. “Expanding this beyond the paper sector is also a top priority, and we encourage locals to work with their staff reps to secure these protections for their workplaces.”

Click here to view Teresa Cassady’s testimony of surviving domestic abuse.

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