Workers at St. Croix Chipping in Baileyville, Maine, officially become members of the USW

On July 21, 36 employees working at St. Croix Chipping in Baileyville, ME, ratified their first contract and officially became members of the USW.

After a mutual parent company purchased the chip mill, the local union president of an adjoining facility, Shawn Howland, and District 4 Staff Representative Mike Higgins, seized the opportunity to organize the neighboring workers.

St. Croix Chipping was formed in August 2020 when International Grand Investment Corporation (IGIC), purchased Price Fibers (formerly Fulghum Fibres). IGIC owns two other USW-represented sites that have related operations on the same piece of land along the St. Croix River – Woodland Pulp (local 27) and St. Croix Tissue (Local 9546).

IGIC’s strategic acquisition of the state-of-the-art chip mill turned the three sister operations in Baileyville into a complete, integrated mill system; Wood is harvested from the Maine forest by St. Croix Chipping, then, the chips are sent off to be pulped via a belt system directly connected to Woodland Pulp. About a third of the pulp produced is later used by St. Croix Tissue to supply 2 commercial and retail toilet paper and towel tissue machines.

Due to the rapport that the Union has with IGIC, the company immediately made a call to the USW after acquiring the chip mill and offered neutrality.

Staff Representative for Woodland Pulp and St. Croix Tissue Mike Higgins said, “When IGIC bought the chipping facility, myself and Local 27 President Shawn Howland, began talking to workers.  After a few meetings, we had over 70% of the employees signed up.”

Bargaining a first contract

While bargaining the newly organized workers’ first contract took longer than expected due to pandemic-related restrictions, outbreaks, and exposures, the outcome was worth the wait.

In addition to a healthy economic benefit package, the new members achieved 3 additional paid holidays to their regular schedule, gained vacation pay at 2% of earnings instead of 40 hours of their hourly rate, and won successorship language.

According to Shawn, it wasn’t all straightforward because of the unique challenges presented by COVID. While the company made it easy for the USW to come in, they had to cancel 3-4 meetings along the way and the longer the bargaining stretched out, the more nervous the would-be members became.

To reduce concerns, a plan was developed to detail the benefit package and compounded wage increases. Shawn said trust is especially important, “You have to be realistic in what you are offering to the membership. You can’t go in high if you can’t follow through.”

It is because of the dedication by experienced Local Leaders and Staff who cultivated a one-of-a-kind working relationship that this story ends in success.

“It’s a win because that’s the way the company I work for wanted it,” said Shawn. “In the past, we had 20-25 grievances filed at any given time, but last year, we had zero. It doesn’t mean that we didn’t have problems, but we were able to work through them.”

Pictured: (top right) St. Croix River featuring all three sister operations, (bottom right) the St. Croix Chipping negotiating committee and Local 27 President Shawn Howland (from left: Bob Ferry, Travis Cilley, Shawn Howland and Craig Roderick). Not pictured is Buck Perkins who was also a vital member of the bargaining team.

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