·  USW

USW Paper Workers Chart Course for Future Activism in Bargaining

Jon Geenen, USW Intl. Vice President, o) 412-562-2307
Lynne Baker, USW Communications, o) 615-831-6782, c) 615-828-6169

Pittsburgh—Strengthening bargaining policy and member activism to support it, improving health and safety, playing an active role in policy issues that affect the industry, while building stronger international ties were the focus for the Aug. 17-19 United Steelworkers (USW) paper sector conference here that drew more than 400 delegates.

“Our members are committed to aggressively moving our agenda forward in the paper industry,” said USW International Vice President Jon Geenen, who heads the union’s paper sector. “They exchanged information, discussed problems and developed strategies to strengthen our contracts and the industry.”

The delegates met separately with their company councils to devise action plans to increase communication between the locals and to mobilize the membership around collective bargaining and other industry issues. Each council also elected a delegate to a standing policy committee that will meet periodically to discuss progress and ideas and suggest course adjustments if necessary.

“It is now well-established that USW paper workers now take a pro-active approach to bargaining,” Geenen said.

Strengthening health and safety provisions in agreements that lead to a more active role for workers in improving health and safety systems in the industry was the number one bargaining priority. This initiative was spurred by a union-led Paper Industry Health and Safety Survey that was conducted over an 18-month period that showed many serious shortcomings in current safety programs.

The study’s recommendations focus on greater union involvement in health and safety, training, work design issues, use of inherently safer chemicals and the elimination of programs that suppress injury and incident reporting.

Delegates agreed to maintain three-year contracts unless master agreements are negotiated or other strategic objectives are obtained that move paper bargaining and paper workers forward. They want to maintain the 80/20 split on premium sharing and innovate and improve their healthcare plans without waiving the right to negotiate over the plan design changes.

Strengthening retirement security remains a key goal for the delegates. The crash of the stock market two years ago has devastated many retirement plans.  Pensions have to provide a secure retirement and provide a significant percentage of replacement income for workers, based on company contributions.

Since bargaining policy was last developed two years ago, many paper contracts now contain successorship language, which protects workers and the agreed terms of labor agreements in the event of a sale of a facility or company.    Delegates committed to add this language where it doesn’t exist and work to strengthen it where it does.

Other bargaining issues discussed included resisting two-tier wage and benefit systems, maintaining vacation time, bargaining 401(k) administration, achieving wage retention in layoff and downsizing situations, developing and achieving severance packages for profitable mills that are shut down and strengthening outsourcing language.

During the conference, delegates strengthened their relationship with their partners and colleagues in Workers Uniting the Global Union. The USW merged with Unite, a union representing workers in the UK and Ireland, in July 2008 to form Workers Uniting. With the paper industry being global, paper workers understand the need for global solidarity. This relationship with Workers Uniting will have a positive impact on paper negotiations. Information is already being shared between workers in the US and Unite who work for the same company. Joint solidarity actions are planned at paper companies in both the US and UK. .

“Our members are building solidarity across the industry and the globe and that has enabled us to make great progress on a number of fronts, including at the bargaining table and on important issues like illegal logging and fair trade,” Geenen said.

The USW is the largest industrial union in North America and has 850,000 members in the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean. It represents workers employed in metals, rubber, chemicals, paper, oil refining, atomic energy and the service sector. In the paper industry, the union represents 120,000 workers.


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