Monday Morning Minute: May 13, 2019

UNION WORK

USW Local 1450 – Knowlton Technologies – Watertown, N.Y. – New Local Agreement Ratified

On April 26, a new three-year agreement at specialty papers company, Knowlton Technologies, was overwhelmingly ratified. The agreement included 8.5 percent total wage increases over the life of the agreement. The local obtained increases to life insurance, disability, dental and vision insurance, and shoe allowance. Staff Representative Jack Vander Baan said that “the greatest gain was the local securing right-to-act safety language.”

According to Local Union President Randy Mehaffy: “The company came in with 39 pages of changes in several articles of our collective bargaining agreement. After 12 days of negotiations, we were able to maintain and obtain increases in some areas where the company had proposed cuts.”

Great job to the local union negotiations committee for obtaining a strong agreement after some hard bargaining!

Right-to-Know Safety Sticker Action

All USW paper sector locals should have received packages with enough “Right-to-Know” stickers to pass out to each of your members. Workers across the global pulp, paper, graphical and packaging sectors are participating in collective actions over the months of May and June to support workers’ right to know all workplace hazard information. This information includes dangerous chemicals and materials, but also hazardous tools, equipment, work processes and the way work is organized. Remember to schedule an action with your local on a day or week of your choosing, and send in photos to Laura Donovan (ldonovan@usw.org) so we can highlight the important work you are doing.

SAFETY

Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of USW Member Killed at Paper Mill

On April 30, 2017, general mechanic, Larry Shiner, was killed at the KapStone (now WestRock) North Charleston, S.C., linerboard mill while attempting to replace a broken drag chain conveyor inside the recovery boiler. He and another mechanic were engulfed in falling salt cake. Shiner was asphyxiated inside the boiler from being trapped in the toxic salt.

The wrongful death lawsuit was filed on April 25, 2019 against two industrial cleaning companies – Palmetto Industrial Services and Thompson Industrial Services. According to the lawsuit, both companies were contracted by the mill to clean the boiler, which had amassed salt cake on the interior tubes and walls. The lawsuit claims that the contracted companies did not properly remove all of the sale cake and failed to notify mill employees.

Click here for th USW Health, Safety and Environment Hazard Alert from 2017 on the incident.

INDUSTRY UPDATE

USW Locals 371 & 1369 – Georgia-Pacific – Monticello, Miss. – Temporary Layoffs to begin this Week

On May 3, Georgia-Pacific announced that it will temporarily lay off workers at the kraft linerboard Mill in Monticello, Miss., beginning on May 18. The company cited the continued decline in demand in the containerboard market. Mill operating rates in the U.S. fell below 90 percent in March, which is the lowest they have been since the Great Recession in 2009.

According to Local 371 President Dan Van Norman: “The maintenance local was able to absorb the layoffs by proposing to go to a modified work schedule during the downtime. The local was willing to do this to keep all of our members at work.”

District 13 Staff Representative Robbie Clark added: “The company and union sat down and worked together to come up with solutions that affect as few employees as possible, like voluntary unpaid vacation time to open up slots for one of the laid-off workers, and rotating shutdowns of machines so that certain shifts would not be hit more than others.”

While the downtime will not be easy to endure, it has been an opportunity for the locals and management to work together to minimize the impact. Due to these efforts, the layoffs are confined to 17 employees for an estimated 20 days out of the initial announcement of 75 days.

International Paper and WestRock Taking Large Amount of Downtime in Kraft Linerboard Production

In further containerboard news, International Paper and WestRock collectively took 820,000 tons of downtime in the first quarter of this year. The two companies comprise more than half of the containerboard market. Additionally, International Paper is expected to take another 145,000 tons of maintenance downtime in the second quarter. According to industry analysts, box shipments in the United States declined by 0.5 percent in 1Q2019, which is surprising considering that this figure has grown 1.8 percent annually over the past five years. The downtime is being taken to help balance supply and demand in the market and to protect kraft linerboard pricing.

USW Local 870 – Soundview (Marcal) Paper – Elmwood Park, N.J.

Earlier this year, a 10-alarm fire devastated the Marcal paper mill in Elmwood Park. Since the fire, Rob Baron, President and CEO of parent company, Soundview Paper, said that he has been working with borough officials to restore utilities on the site and assess the viability of restarting operations in the borough of Elmwood Park. Approximately 500 workers were left without jobs due to the destruction and 136 former employees have been assisting in recovery efforts.

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.

Click here to download this as a PDF.

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