June 06, 2020

IP, union leaders reach tentative agreement

BUCKSPORT – Union leaders and mill officials have reached a tentative agreement on how to proceed with the first round of job cuts at the International Paper Co. mill.

After an all-day negotiating session Tuesday, four of the five unions at the mills reached an agreement with company officials on issues surrounding the severance package departing workers will receive and on benefits for the workers remaining at the mill.

‘We’re glad to be able to work with our unions to implement some operating efficiencies at the mill,” IP spokeswoman Kelly McFarlane said Wednesday.

IP officials have said they need to eliminate at least 100 positions at the mill and will cut 70 hourly jobs and 10 salaried positions by the end of this year. The two sides were stalemated late last month over issues surrounding the departing workers and wage adjustments for the remaining workers at the mill.

No timetable has been announced for when the cuts will take place. Mill officials have said they hope the job cuts could be accomplished through early retirements and voluntary severances.

According to Jeff Snowman, president of Local 1-1188 of Paper Allied Industrial Chemical and Energy Workers International, or PACE, the talks resumed Tuesday and reconvened Wednesday morning, at which point the two sides agreed.

Mill officials agreed to a severance package that would pay departing hourly workers 3 percent of their annual wages times the number of years worked for the company. Also, in exchange for a $600 lump-sum payment to the remaining workers, the unions will give up their right to arbitrate wage adjustment requests for those workers.

Union leaders have claimed that the elimination of jobs at the mill undoubtedly would result in additional work for the remaining employees. Under existing contracts, when there are substantial changes to any position at the mill, the unions can apply to have the hourly wages adjusted to compensate an employee for the additional work.

The company reportedly had wanted the unions to give up that right.

Snowman said the agreement for the company to compensate workers for giving up the right to arbitrate those wage adjustments is a recognition of the local integrity of the unions.

“Hopefully, the people left here will look at that $600 as a recognition of their efforts,” Snowman said Wednesday afternoon. “This is the best we could do in a bad situation.

“This industry is in dire straits. We’re trying to do what we can to keep this place running.”

The negotiations over the last month or so were sometimes heated, but Snowman said reaching this accord has been the easy part of the process.

“It’s easy to say we’re going to cut 70 positions,” he said. “It’s more difficult to say ‘you’re the one who’s going to get cut.”‘

Employees still need to approve the tentative agreement. Snowman said union officials will meet with their members during the next week and may hold educational meetings if necessary before the votes are taken.

One union representing office workers at the mill did not accept the package the other four unions did and chose to negotiate on its own, Snowman said.

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