March 1, 2011 in City

Ponderay Newsprint workers on strike

By The Spokesman-Review

Union workers at the Ponderay Newsprint plant walked out of the plant at 6 a.m. today, halting production at the mill near Usk in Pend Oreille County.

Greg Jones, representative for the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, said the 92 members of Local 422 voted to strike Monday night.

The company, he said, is violating the terms of a settlement negotiated with the help of the National Labor Relations Board in November.

The biggest issue, Jones said, is the company’s failure to follow a settlement provision that was to allow union members to disengage from voluntary committees like the plant’s fire brigade, emergency medical technicians, and production/management teams.

The company also changed some practices in place prior to the settlement, a change in the status quo not allowed, Jones said.

“The union employees would like the company to resolve these issues,” he said, noting that the next scheduled talks are set for later this month.

Plant Manager Paul Machtoff declined to comment on the issues separating the company and union.

“We are disappointed the union has taken this step,” he said.

The plant has a total of 178 employees, Machtoff said.

He would not say whether the company would try to restart its paper-making machine with non-striking employees.

The plant can make 250,000 tons of newsprint annually, and was operating at full capacity until the line was shut down shortly before the walkout, Machtoff said.

“We’re working with customers to understand their supply needs,” he said.

The plant makes paper for more than 100 newspapers, including publications of McClatchy Co. and Gannett Co. Inc., which are part-owners.

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