Monday Morning Minute: Aug. 23, 2021

Union WorK

Workers at St. Croix Ratify First Contract at Baileyville, Maine, Chipping Facility

Employees at the St. Croix Chipping facility in Baileyville, Maine, ratified on July 21 their first contract and the 36 workers officially became USW members. 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.

Due to the rapport between the USW and IGIC, the company immediately called the union after acquiring the chip mill and offered neutrality. Higgins, the staff rep for Woodland Pulp and St. Croix Tissue, 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 percent of the employees signed up.”

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

According to Shawn, negotiations weren’t straightforward because of the unique challenges COVID-19 presented. While the company made it easy for the USW to come in, it 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, the local developed a plan 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.”

To read the rest of the story, copy and paste the following link into your browser: https://usw.org/news/media-center/articles/2021/workers-at-st-croix-chipping-in-baileyville-maine-officially-become-members-of-the-usw

Labor-Violation Provision in United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement Protects Workers

USW Director of International Affairs Ben Davis recently testified at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on corruption among some unions in Mexico that are undermining workers’ rights. Workers at a General Motors plant in Mexico alleged that a contract negotiated by the Confederation of Mexican Workers, one of the country’s biggest unions, was rejected by the membership. The situation led to a U.S. complaint being filed under the United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA), serving as a test for the new trade deal.

The USMCA has been in effect for just over a year now and replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). What the USMCA has that NAFTA didn’t are protections that aim to strengthen unions in Mexico and slow migration of American business operations across the border to try and prevent a “race to the bottom” for both U.S. and Mexican workers. Many collective bargaining contracts in Mexico consist of deals between unions and companies without workers' approval, which has helped keep Mexican hourly wages at a fraction of those in the United States.

Safety

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration Intends to Implement a New Heat Illness Standard that Would Apply to Indoor Environments, Like Paper Mills

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) announced this past spring its intention to create a new heat illness standard that would target “indoor workers without climate-controlled environments.” While the contents of the standard are not clear yet, the development of the proposed standard is an item to pay attention to as OSHA particularly has manufacturing facilities in mind, which include paper mills and converting sites.

Some state-level heat illness prevention requirements offer clues as to what could be set nationally. An OSHA standard may mandate break times and require employers to monitor employee acclimatization, as well as temperatures and humidity levels. Virginia is drafting a standard with an intent to “reduce/eliminate employee injuries, illnesses, and fatalities due to exposure to excessive heat at indoor and outdoor places of work.”

Oregon adopted a 180-day emergency rule protecting workers from indoor and outdoor heat. The requirements expand access to shade and cool water, and include regular cool-down breaks, training, communication, emergency planning and other measures. This temporary standard likely will be the basis of a permanent one to be adopted in the fall.

Minnesota’s indoor heat standard requires employers to measure heat using a “wet-bulb globe temperature” (WGBT) index, which is calculated by air temperature, air speed, humidity and radiation. Accounting for humidity and other heat-related factors becomes especially important to the paper sector when you consider that many USW-represented sites are located in the South, where temperatures and humidity levels are regularly high.

We will continue to monitor any developments with regard to a heat illness standard set by OSHA. In the meantime, the agency has resources available through its heat illness prevention campaign. Those resources can be found at the following link: Heat Illness Prevention Campaign | Occupational Safety and Health Administration (osha.gov).

Industry Update

Printing and Writing Papers Market Update

The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) released its July 2021 printing-writing monthly report, and a takeaway is that market conditions are tight due to increased demand and recent capacity closures. With schools and some offices reopening, uncoated free sheet paper usage has gone up, and the associated data is reflected in shipment figures, which have increased 7% compared to July 2020. In the second quarter of this year, U.S. mills shipped 1.2 million tons—18% more than the same time period last year. Additionally, capacity closures—like the conversion of PCA’s number 3 paper machine in Jackson, Ala., from white paper to containerboard that removed 365,000 tons of capacity—have further tightened markets.

On the coated side, U.S. purchases of coated free sheet papers in July increased 3% compared to last July, while the inventory level increased 2% compared to June 2021. Coated mechanical paper shipments increased 16% compared to July 2020, while the inventory level decreased 3% compared to June 2021.

Tell Us Your Stories!

Has your local done something amazing? Have you had a great solidarity action? Done something huge to help your community? Made significant connections with other labor groups? Is your Women of Steel or Next Gen committee making waves? Have you had success in bargaining, major accomplishments? We all stay so busy working to improve our workplaces and communities that we often do not take 5 minutes to reflect, share and celebrate our accomplishments.

Tell us your story so we can all be part of it! Contact Laura Donovan at ldonovan@usw.org, or at 412-562-2504.

Press Inquiries

Media Contacts

Communications Director:
Jess Kamm at 412-562-2446

USW@WORK (USW magazine)
Editor R.J. Hufnagel

For industry specific inquiries,
Call USW Communications at 412-562-2442

Mailing Address

United Steelworkers
Communications Department
60 Blvd. of the Allies
Pittsburgh, PA 15222