Monday Morning Minute: June 10, 2019

“Luke Strong” by Logan Ray Kitzmiller, Verso, Luke, Maryland

On May 31, 2019, the Verso mill in Luke, Maryland, that produces coated freesheet paper went silent for the first time in 131 years. In a Facebook post, union officer Logan Ray Kitzmiller eloquently wrote about the sentiments around the closure:

It’s in the worst of circumstances that we are afforded the opportunity to see the best in each other and in ourselves. This display of world-class human nature can be witnessed right now within the boundaries of the Luke mill. The ever-present fear of a day that we cease to exist as we have for 131 years has come to pass, and one would naturally expect an unsavory, unbecoming reaction from the 675 souls within as a result. However, this is most certainly not the case. From an outside perspective this would be perceived as an anomalous result, but to those 675 men and women, it is the only acceptable way of handling this. We were, and are, the best at what we do. We know this with every fiber in our bodies, and we choose to act as such until we are relieved of our posts. Nothing binds us to this, mind you; it is our personal choice as a collective body. We do not require hired security forces to watch our every move, or measures to be put in place to prevent defiant behavior. We are better than that by far. This is our house, and we will treat it with the respect it deserves until the very last moment. Being a part of this group, it is impossible to quantify the pride of who we are, or the blood, sweat, tears and dedication it took to get here, to anyone on the outside looking in. This is simply the nature of the Luke mill. This is how we do business. This is how we choose to be thought of in the world outside. In the worst-case scenario, this is how we want to be remembered.

In the coming days, we will make our last walk down the same beaten paths to our jobs as they stand in their current form; perhaps our last walk down those paths forever. However, the title of “job” is a poor and insufficient descriptor of what is currently being ripped from our hands, against our will. Jobs have no value beyond the monetary gain that you achieve from performing them. Jobs are always available and being offered; jobs are a dime a dozen. The Luke mill is something invaluable that we all hold in our hearts, minds and souls, and always will, far beyond our tenure here. Our lives have been enriched by being a part of something magnificent that everyone contributed to and took equal shares of the pride that comes with a job well done. Skills were learned and developed through gainful employment, doing something we were fully invested in. Our individual families were expanded immensely due solely to the closeness and familiarity we share with each other. A person couldn’t hope for a better support system, and we are united and eternally bound together. We had something rare and beautiful among the pale blue buildings of a quiet corner of Western Maryland and West Virginia.

What describes our employment at the Luke mill, then? While many words are fitting, if I were forced to quantify this mill in one word, I would say it is a legacy. We are comprised of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters and innumerable other family and personal ties. We are represented by multiple generations of families, neighbors and friends. Not only represented, but represented admirably. Problems, tensions and ideologies that commonly suppress societies are not present within our mill community. Borders and barriers that cause schisms and prevent the unity and strength that so many long for are not relevant here. While this may seem utopian and fantastical to some, it is merely a way of life for us. We are a family, and we are strong, resilient and unified—even in our darkest hour. After the dust has settled, and life has moved on to whatever chapters we will choose to write next in our individual histories, what we have and what we carry with us from the Luke mill can never be stripped away. While forces beyond our control may be able to take so much, there is no amount of power that can render us of what is printed on the very fabric of who we are.

Vincent Van Gogh once stated, “It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.” There is no better quote to describe the people of the Luke mill and our surrounding communities. We are, collectively, lovers of many things, many ideas, many interests, and many people. We participate in our schools, charities, churches, sports leagues, local governments and organizations with grateful hearts, fervent passion and an unquenchable desire to constantly improve the world around us. We support others when it is needed, and are not too proud to ask for the support of another when our own tears must be shed. The Luke mill has built a legacy of strength off of broad shoulders, unwavering pride in our work, who we are as a community, all that we have done to get here, and, most of all, a deep, admirable and all-encompassing love for one another, what we do and how it directly affects our community.

A great book that reaches to the scale of a true epic has already been written in a small, oft-forgotten part of the world named Luke. However, we know and believe that much of this story is yet to be written. As we conclude our current chapter, a stone has been cast into the waters, creating ripples that will begin the foundations of many chapters yet to come. Some ripples will, hopefully, begin again in the Luke mill, while others will start composing a new story in other communities and businesses. Regardless of the locations and storylines to follow, know that the world will forever be a better place anywhere that an employee of Luke walks. We are stronger than adversity. We are stronger than the challenges that lie before us. We are stronger than any adversary that may rise against us. We are Luke Strong."

Union Work

USW and Domtar Convene Working Groups to Address Issues Before Next Bargaining

On Monday, June 3, the Domtar Union Council and the company met in Pittsburgh to review progress on working groups that have been convened with the company on overtime, safety (particularly new workers training new workers), wellness, opportunities for maintenance (including insuring apprenticeship programs are optimal), hiring and training issues, as well as the master process itself.

The working groups used the time together to identify issues, objectives and the data needed to make progress, and reported out to each other. They will work over the next several months and convene again on September 19 in conjunction with the USW Domtar Safety Conference to report out their work. Each local union president is serving on a working group with some other local leaders, International leadership and management counterparts.

Many of these working groups are part of already established labor-management committees, like our benefits committee and safety committee, and many may develop into established committees as well. It is hoped the working groups will assist in resolving issues in advance of the next round of master bargaining or provide a platform for better resolving the issues during negotiations if necessary. 

Below is a photo of a handful of Domtar’s Women of Steel who participated in the meetings.

PIUMPF Legislation

The ongoing effort to protect multi-employer pension plans like PIUMPF takes an important step this week. HR 397 the Rehabilitation for Multiemployer Pensions Act also known as the “Butch-Lewis Act” will have a legislative mark-up in the Education and Labor Committee this Tuesday. The committee is largely expected to move the legislation with every Democrat on the committee co-signed to the bill (minus Representative Underwood IL-14, who is expected to vote in favor). The USW is also working hard to encourage Republicans to join the legislation, but no members on the Education and Labor Committee are on the bill. The USW is actively pushing the legislation that will ensure workers in troubled multi-employer pension plans receive their promised benefits.

The next step after the Education and Labor Committee mark-up will be a second mark-up in the Ways and Means Committee later this summer. If you haven’t signed a letter in support, take action here https://www.usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2019/take-action-to-protect-our-pensions

Also, if you recognize any of these members of Congress who are on the Education and Labor Committee, make a phone call to their DC office and tell them to support HR 397!

Virginia Foxx (R-NC), David Philip "Phil" Roe (R-TN), Glenn W. "GT" Thompson (R-PA), Timothy L. "Tim" Walberg (R-MI), Steven Brett Guthrie (R-KY), Bradley R. Byrne (R-AL), Glenn S. Grothman (R-WI), Elise M. Stefanik (R-NY), Richard W. "Rick" Allen (R-GA), L. Francis Rooney, III (R-FL), Lloyd K. Smucker (R-PA), James E. "Jim" Banks (R-IN), Mark Walker (R-NC), James R. Comer (R-KY), Benjamin L. "Ben" Cline (R-VA), Russell M. "Russ" Fulcher (R-ID), Nicholas "Van" Taylor (R-TX), Steven C. "Steve" Watkins, Jr. (R-KS), Ronald J. "Ron" Wright (R-TX), Daniel "Dan" Meuser (R-PA), William Richardson Timmons, IV (R-SC) and Dustin "Dusty" Johnson (R-SD).

Safety

USW International Paper Box Safety Committee Convenes at Morristown, Tenn., Box Plant (USW Local 9-1411)

The committee of four local union leaders, paper sector bargaining and safety leadership, along with International Paper (IP) labor, human resources and North American container safety managers met over an agenda that included an update on IP’s safety efforts in the container system, development of a regional USW IP Effective Safety Committee workshop with a pilot in August, t-loading and a review of the USW Paper Sector Critical Hazards modules. The Morristown Labor/Management Safety Committee attended the Critical Hazards session and gave important feedback.

The committee also toured the Morristown facility, where the Local 9-1411 members produce containers and specialize in heavy duty boxes for watermelons and other heavy fruits and vegetables. A conference call of all USW IP box local leaders will be convened in the near future to discuss work around t-loading.

Industry Update

Georgia-Pacific to Close Bleached Board Operations at Crossett Mill and the Pulping and Extrusion Operations

USW Locals 369 & 589 – Georgia-Pacific – Crossett, Ark. – Georgia-Pacific announced on June 4 that it would close its bleached board, pulping and extrusion operations in Crossett, Ark., as of October 2019. The mill has produced bleached board sheets to supply Georgia-Pacific’s Dixie consumer business. Those operations will be moved to the Naheola and Brewton, Ala., mills, and the St. Mary’s, Ga., extrusion facility. The company will also close three particleboard plants in the Southeast that are not represented by the USW.

Approximately 530 bargaining unit jobs will be impacted by layoffs, and about 500 will be retained; this cuts the mill workforce roughly in half. The mill will continue to produce tissue and towels for the Consumer Products Group’s retail business. USW Local Union 369 President David Ricks said that “the shock of the announcement still hasn’t worn off, but people are stepping up to get their work done as Steelworkers do. It’s a bad deal, but not my worst day as a union officer. The worst day I’ve had at the mill was when Robert Harold Wesson was killed on the job on August 11, 2014.”

The locals at the mill will begin effects bargaining as soon as possible.

International Paper to Sell its India-based Paper Business

International Paper will sell its controlling interest in International Paper APPM Limited, headquartered in Hyderabad, India to another Indian company, West Coast Paper Mills Limited. IP APPM produces writing, printing and copier papers for foreign and domestic (Indian) markets. International Paper owns about 75 percent of the outstanding shares, and West Coast Paper Mills will purchase between 51 percent and 60 percent of those shares. IP’s decision is based on its intent to focus on growing its global packaging and cellulose fibers business.

Tell Us Your Stories!

Has your local done something amazing? Have you had a great solidarity action? Done something huge to help your community? Made significant connections with other labor groups? Is your Women of Steel or Next Gen committee making waves? Have you had success in bargaining, major accomplishments? We all stay so busy working to improve our workplaces and communities that we often do not take 5 minutes to reflect, share and celebrate our accomplishments.

Tell us your story so we can all be part of it! Contact Laura Donovan at ldonovan@usw.org, or at 412-562-2504.

Press Inquiries

Media Contacts

Communications Director:
Jess Kamm at 412-562-2446

USW@WORK (USW magazine)
Editor Jim McKay

For industry specific inquiries,
Call USW Communications at 412-562-2442

Mailing Address

United Steelworkers
Communications Department
60 Blvd. of the Allies
Pittsburgh, PA 15222