Monday Morning Minute: June 8, 2020

INCIDENT ALERTS

USW Local 13-1053 – WestRock – Rogers, Ark.

On June 2, 2020, a member was injured at the WestRock corrugated box shop in Rogers, Ark. The complete details are unknown at this, and we will follow up in the near future with more details when they become available.

USW Local 449 – Huhtamaki – Waterville, Maine

On June 3, 2020, a member was seriously injured at the Huhtamaki mill in Waterville, Maine. The complete details are unknown at this time, and we will follow up in the near future with more details when they become available.

Union Work

Natural Gas Boiler and Investments

USW Local 1-112 – Essity – Middletown, Ohio – Essity approved the installation of a natural gas boiler at its mill in Middletown, Ohio, with construction to begin in late spring next year. The company also approved a de-inking project to eliminate white fiber in the facility’s natural grades. The new boiler is expected to come online later in the third or fourth quarter of 2021. The boiler investment totals nearly $7 million and the de-inking project totals about $600,000; both investments are a sign of the company’s commitment and belief in the mill.

A little over two years ago, Essity indicated that there was a big chance that the Middletown mill would have to shut down due to its age and the fact that there were operational issues that made it hard to compete. USW paper sector leadership went to the mill to meet with the company about hard decisions that needed to be made in order for the facility to survive. Bargaining ensued for two weeks and a fair deal was reached that reconstructed the entire operation, but it was clear that this was the facility’s last hope.

Today, because of the hard work and collaboration by the membership and company, the Middletown mill is competitive and will continue to provide job security for about 110 USW members. According to Staff Representative Ronnie Wardrup, “When we got together to negotiate through the downturn, it was clear that long-term success would be tied to the boiler investment. With this news, it gives hope to people that they can create long-term viability at their facilities and that multiple generations of families can have paper sector jobs.”

Did You Know?

Greeting Cards and Handwritten Letters Picked-Up during Pandemic

Since lockdown measures went into effect in March, occasions such as Mother’s Day were celebrated remotely. That’s created a greater demand for greeting cards. Paper Source Inc. reported that sales surged 1,200 percent since March. Demand increased as well for sympathy, friendship and “thank you” cards. There was a 10-fold increase in Mother’s Day sales, according to a May 20 Bloomberg report. The renewed interest in old-fashioned paper cards comes as quarantined Americans also embrace video calls and other ways to keep in touch with the ones they can’t spend time with in-person. It’s giving stationery companies a much-needed boost, as the industry had faced pressure from changing consumer tastes even before the pandemic forced a retail shutdown.

Safety 

Susan Harwood Training Grants Available through July 20

OSHA awards grants to nonprofit organizations on a competitive basis through its Susan Harwood Training Grant Program. Grants are awarded to provide training and education programs for employers and workers on the recognition, avoidance, and prevention of safety and health hazards in their workplaces. Workers also learn their rights and employers learn their responsibilities under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Target audiences include underserved, low-literacy, and high-hazard industry workers and employers. Click here for more information: https://www.osha.gov/harwoodgrants/.

The United Steelworkers Charitable and Educational Organization (the Tony Mazzocchi Center) was awarded grant money through the Susan Harwood Grant Program for several years. The funds allowed the USW Tony Mazzocchi Center to conduct the “Preventing Fatalities and Improving Safety and Health in the Paper Sector” course, which provides many local unions with valuable training.

Industry Update

Sappi Temporarily Laying Off Employees at Three Mills

USW Locals 11-63, 1069 & 4-9 – Sappi – Cloquet, Minn., Westbrook, Maine & Skowhegan, Maine (Somerset Mill) – Due to market conditions amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Sappi will be temporarily laying off employees at its Cloquet, Minn., Westbrook, Maine, and Skowhegan, Maine (Somerset) mills. The decision was made as the company tries to balance supply with demand for its products. The company is planning the layoffs on a rotational basis and they are expected to last for one to two weeks.

In April, the Cloquet mill shut down for one week for demand-related reasons as its primary product is coated freesheet paper and major printing customers were not operating due to the pandemic; that temporary shutdown was timed with the mill’s annual maintenance outage, which typically lasts a week and a half.

Greif to Permanently Shut Mobile, Ala., Mill

USW Local 1286 – Greif – Mobile, Ala. – On June 3, Greif announced to USW Local 1286 membership that it would permanently shut its uncoated recycled paperboard mill in Mobile, Ala. In October 2019, Greif shut the PM#1 machine and the company will now shut its PM#2. The mill was acquired from Caraustar early last year, and prior to that it was owned by the Newark Group until 2015 as Mobile Paperboard. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on paper and board markets; Greif reported in its 2Q earnings call that “softer” markets for recycled containerboard and tube and core market conditions were cited as reasons for the closure.

While the date of the closure is not certain at this time, the company is aiming to wind down operations by the end of June. The USW will begin effects bargaining soon for over 50 members who have continued working at the mill after the first paper machine shut.

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