Members Ratify WestRock Contract: New Master Agreement Covers 5,500 Paperworkers in 24 States

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Members at more than four dozen WestRock locations across 24 states voted in December to ratify a new four-year master agreement covering more than 5,500 USW members.

The agreement, which members ratified by a more than 3-to-1 margin through mail-in ballots, covers paperworkers at 15 mills and 36 converter plants.

Aggressive Agenda

International Vice President Luis Mendoza, who leads bargaining in the union’s paper sector, credited members for setting an aggressive bargaining agenda and demonstrating unwavering solidarity despite challenging circumstances.

“This bargaining team was determined to win a contract that would create stability and security for members now and into the future,” Mendoza said. “And they achieved that goal by working together.”

The new master agreement went into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, and covers contracts with scheduled expirations through the end of 2027. The first year of the agreement includes a 3.25percent wage increase, with a 3 percent wage increase in each subsequent year.

The master agreement covers workers at WestRock mills and converter plants in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Best Deal in Years

Member Tim Cooks, chief steward for Local 819 in Fresno, Calif., has worked for WestRock for 17 years and said it was the best agreement he’s seen during his tenure with the company.

“All in all, we are moving in the right direction,” said Cooks.

In addition to raising wages, the contract held the line on health care costs and provided members with significant improvements to retirement contributions and vacation.

“In this environment, this was as good a deal as we could have gotten,” said Billy Smith, president of Local 9-0425 in Roanoke Rapids, N.C.

In addition to the across-the-board financial gains, the contract contained no concessions and eliminated a two-tier wage system that members had made it a priority to abolish.

The agreement also improved life insurance and short-term disability benefits, while accelerating benefits for new hires.

Smith said that eliminating two-tier wages and improving benefits – particularly for newer workers – would improve members’ lives while also strengthening the union.

“That’s a big deal,” Smith said. “We brought a lot of people up, and that’s what we’re here to do.”

New Ownership

An added challenge that members faced as negotiations got underway was the announcement of a proposed merger of WestRock with Smurfit Kappa, one of the largest producers of containerboard in Europe, with additional operations in Mexico, Central America and South America.

Smurfit Kappa announced in September that it had reached an agreement to acquire WestRock, with a plan to close the transaction in mid-2024.

Mendoza said that the union still has concerns about the planned merger, which would make the new company one of the largest, if not the largest paper and packaging company in the world by revenue.

“This transaction raises questions for workers, including who will be leading the combined company into the future, how they will manage their work force, and how the results could affect USW members,” Mendoza said.

The USW’s agreement with WestRock does include a successorship clause that requires any new owners to act in accordance with the terms of the union’s existing collective bargaining agreements.


Save the date paper conference 2024

The USW will hold the 2024 National Paper Bargaining Conference from Aug. 5 to Aug. 8 in Austin, Texas. The conference marks the first time in six years that USW paperworkers will gather in person to network, learn, build solidarity and, importantly, set the union’s National Paper Bargaining Policy. For more about the conference, including registration, hotel and travel information, visit

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