By JEFF JOHNSON
(Mar. 21, 2013) — Yesterday, on the first day of spring, Shelly Treator, President of Local 155 of the Association of Pulp and Paper Workers, led 130 hourly workers off the job at the pulp and paper mill in Port Angeles on an unfair labor practice strike. Nippon Paper the owners of the mill had just implemented their “final offer” while negotiations were still going on. (See coverage in today’s Peninsula Daily News.)
The last time these workers went out on strike was in 1978. At the time Shelly’s dad was heading up the union. Though her dad died several years ago Shelly told me, “I think my dad is looking down at the local with pride.”
The average age of the workforce at the mill is 50 with 20 years of service to the company and the community. Curt Madison, started working at the mill in 1975, the year he graduated from high school. At age 56, Curt has 35 years in at the mill. Curt and his fellow workers say they are out because the workers deserve simple respect from the company to finish negotiating a fair and equitable contract.
Nippon, a successful multinational corporation, has implemented a contract that would freeze the defined-benefit pension and create 401(k) plan for the rest of the ride for existing workers and for new employees. (Nippon is opening up a co-gen facility capable of producing 20 megawatts of power this fall — with the help of state tax benefits.) Health care takeaways and a two-tier wage system for new employees is also on the table.
Local 155 workers have joined with the community to say enough is enough. They would appreciate support from their state legislators Sen. Jim Hargrove, Reps. Kevin Van De Wege and Steve Tharinger, and other local elected officials. If Nippon is able to strong-arm this workforce, then both the workers and the community will lose.
Meanwhile, at 5 p.m. yesterday on the Bridgeport I-5 overpass near Lakewood, Sherrilla Hopson, President of Local 1501 of the American Federation of Government Employees, led a spirited group of 100 union and community members to call for an end to the sequestration cuts and to protect our earned benefit programs: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. (Also see coverage in today’s News Tribune and Seattle Times.)
Judging by the cacophony of car and truck horns the message was well-received by the motoring public.
Not only is sequestration one of the dumbest actions taken by Congress, it will also inflict great harm to the very families and communities that the Republicans in Congress claim they are looking out for. And, depending how long it is in effect, it could send our economy tumbling back into recession.
Local 1501’s rally was one of a half-dozen rallies against sequestration in Washington State as part of a National Day of Action yesterday and one of hundreds held across the country.
Jeff Johnson is President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the largest labor organization in the Evergreen State, representing the interests of more than 500 local unions and 400,000 rank-and-file union members.
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