Monday Morning Minute: May 6, 2019

Union Work

Global Safety Campaign Kicked Off

Workers in the global pulp, paper, graphical and packaging sectors kicked off a yearlong safety campaign on Workers’ Memorial Day by highlighting workers’ Right to Know hazards and risks in their workplaces. Below, is a photo that was sent in by UNITE. The union was conducting a simultaneous action in Kent, United Kingdom on the closure of Kimberly-Clark’s Northfleet plant.

Revised Council Meeting Dates – Georgia-Pacific and International Paper Councils

Due to a scheduling conflict, we have moved the council meetings for the Georgia-Pacific and International Paper councils to September. The Georgia-Pacific Council will meet on September 24, and the International Paper Council will meet on September 25. Official call letters with hotel information and logistics will be forthcoming this week.

We will make an announcement very soon with new dates for the Graphic Packaging Council meeting, which is also being rescheduled.


Gas Leak at a USW-Represented Paper Mill

The following is a description of events, by two different union members, which took place in the power house of a USW-represented paper mill. The manner in which a gas leak at the mill was handled is a great example of how Right-to-Act mechanisms were used to identify a hazard and refuse work assessed to be unsafe. The work was safely performed only after the hazard was controlled and eliminated.


Contractors were on scaffolding working on the #4 pulverizer beside the #26 boiler. A boiler operator states that there had been periodic hints of gas previously, but nothing that lingered. He and another operator went to verify the smell. Mill maintenance forces were called and found a valve with a gasket leak. The gas system was isolated and the bolts were tightened by maintenance.

Once the system was energized, the leak remained. While maintenance was working on the gas leak, the #25 coal boiler tripped off due to an unrelated coal feeder issue. With the gas locked-out for the leak repair, the company could not light #25 back off and use the igniters until the gas was turned back on.  The top management person at the power center told the two boiler operators that they were going to light #25 off. Both operators reminded him that there was still an active gas leak, to which the top manager responded that they will light #25 off. The boiler operators refused.

The top manager said that he was aware of the leak and stated, "We can live with it." As far as the boiler operators were aware, the top manager did not want the boiler off until a new gasket was put in at the leak. It took about 30 minutes and they then lit the boiler off without incident.


A maintenance journeyman was called to the boiler house to repair a leaking gasket. When he put his monitor on the leak, it read 85 PPM while being pulled from the boiler. The leak was at about the 11:00 position on the gasket. The gas line was isolated and locked out, and the maintenance journeyman tightened the four bolts.

After finishing, he checked the gasket with his monitor again and the 11:00 position had sealed, but it now leaked at about the 1:00 position. The monitor still read 85 PPM. The decision was made to change the gasket.

While working on the leak, the #25 boiler tripped out due to coal feeder issues. The boiler could not be started without the gas being turned back out. Before the leak was fixed, the hourly marked-up foreman told the journeyman that the top manager said to start up the boiler.

The journeyman told the foreman that it would not be started up until the leak was fixed. The top manager then came out and told the journeyman to start up the boiler. The top manager went to the location of the leak and said he could feel no leak. He put his hand on the 11:00 position, but never checked the 1:00 position. The journeyman said that the boiler should not be turned on until the leak was fixed.

The top manager went into the boiler control (with the journeyman following him) and told the two operators to start the boiler up, and they both said “no.” The top manager then put his hand on the shoulder of one of the boiler operators and told him that they were starting upthe boiler.

Both operators said “no” and the journeyman said that he would take care of it. The journeyman then left the control room and called for security on the radio to return to the power center. Security returned to the power center along with the safety department. The gasket was changed in 30 minutes and the boiler was started back up.

USW Local 1097 – Georgia Pacific – Wauna, Oregon, USW District 12

Local Union Safety Committee Completes Two-Day Workshop, part of the United Steelworkers/Tony Mazzocchi Center’s “Preventing Fatalities and Improving Safety and Health in the Paper Sector” project.  On April 16, 2019, local union leaders and safety committee members participated in the first day of the workshop; on April 17, they were joined by management counterparts for the second day, focusing on “Increasing the Effectiveness of Labor-Management Safety and Health Committees.”

This was the first time this type of workshop has been presented for a Georgia-Pacific mill.  Union and management participants discussed strengths of the mill’s safety systems and structures, including sharing of safety information, and a commitment of working together for a safe workplace that incorporates safety sub-committees.

Also discussed were suggestions to increase the effectiveness of the safety and health committee by formulating a process for handling workplace change and regular walk-around inspections/audits.

Other suggestions discussed to increase the safety and health committee’s effectiveness were a process for union-management accident/incident/near-miss investigations to identify root causes and system failures and having adequate time for the committee.

Participants developed specific action plans to address several current health and safety concerns, such as addressing problems with green-on-green training and training in general. 

The workshop received very positive feedback from participants, including “Materials were very good, the process of identifying our gaps was very effective;” “Loved working with union and management and finding out we are on the same page of most subjects;” “Opened eyes to area of concern and ideas to improve;” “Very much needed to make our team better,” and “Pushing change, and I’m looking forward to the future as a Union WSC Member!”


Industry Update

USW Local 676 – Verso – Luke, Maryland – Verso Luke Mill to Close

On April 30, Verso announced that it would close its coated paper mill in Luke, Maryland, by June 30. The company cited the continuing decline in demand for the grades of coated freesheet paper produced at the mill. The closure of the 130-year-old mill will result in the loss of nearly 700 jobs.

According to District 8 Assistant to the Director Jim Strong, Trade Adjustment Assistance has been applied for, and effects bargaining will begin the third week of May, where he will be working to obtain the best severance package possible for the membership.

Mill closures have a devastating effect on the local community, be it on local businesses that depend on patronage of mill employees, or local tax implications, etc. The Luke mill is no exception, as its size and reach, effectively, is the town.

Additionally, in the paper industry, for every mill job there are three other associated jobs that depend on that work—such as in logging, trucking and chemicals—so, the effects are felt even more broadly than the immediate region.

Many of you who attended the National Paper Bargaining Conference in 2016 may remember the legislative work panel that included participation from our legislative office, Jim Strong and Luke mill Local Union President Greg Harvey. Jim and Greg spoke about the work done by the union to lobby in favor of classifying paper mill by-product, black liquor, as a renewable energy source, which resulted in tax credits for their mill. The International, local and staff have done a tremendous amount of work over the years to protect their work and the mill. 

The International also has led two coated free sheet trade cases to protect these mills from dumping by the Chinese and other countries. The first was unsuccessful due to lack of harm (demonstrating a sufficient loss of jobs) and the second was successful. Our trade lawyers continue to monitor this sector for further action.

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, or at 412-562-2504.

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