March 2, 2011 in Business

Newsprint strike stops work at plant

Union says company violates settlement
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Union workers at the Ponderay Newsprint plant walked off the job at 6 a.m. Tuesday, 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.

He said the company also ignored rules that forbid changes to pre-settlement work practices.

“The union employees would like the company to resolve these issues,” he said, noting that the next scheduled talks are set for March 24-25.

Plant Manager Paul Machtoff declined to comment on the issues separating the company and union, saying he does not want to negotiate in the media.

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

Machtoff said the plant has a total of 178 employees.

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 newsprint plant, one of the largest employers Pend Oreille County, is managed by AbitibiBowater, which is also a 40 percent owner. Gannett Co. Inc., The McClatchy Co., and MediaNews Group own the other 60 percent.

Jones said workers voted to organize in September 2009. Negotiations with the company began in January 2010, he said.

The settlement with the NLRB addressed only union claims of unfair labor practices, Jones said.

Wages were not an issue, he said.


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