Longview, Washington, USA 04 August 2015 -- (From The Longview Daily News) -- KapStone officials Monday declared a bargaining impasse and told pulp and paper union officials they will implement most of the company's latest contract offer by Friday, according to the union.
A union leader called the move "a huge mistake" as word of the company's move spread among union members who were staging rallies around the community Monday.
KapStone declined to comment on the negotiations or reveal which parts of the latest contract it intends to put into force.
KapStone officials made the announcement during scheduled bargaining talks Monday with Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers Local 153. The two sides have been negotiating, sometimes with assistance from a federal mediator, since spring 2014. The previous contract expired that May.
Despite twice authorizing a strike, and three times rejecting company contract offers, the union has so far declined to walk out for the first time since 1978.
Greg Pallesen, vice president of AWPPW, called the company's move "a huge mistake," but he declined to say whether or when Local 153 would go on strike.
"We might strike now or we might wait," Pallesen said.
Under an impasse, an employer can implement a lockout at anytime and employees could call a strike at any time.
Local 153 held a rally Monday afternoon outside at the Cowlitz Expo Center, where the negotiations were held, in addition to a rally earlier in the afternoon in front of the Longview mill.
"We don't think we're legally at an impasse," said John Minor, who serves on Local 153's bargaining board. He added that the union will challenge the impasse with the National Labor Relations Board.
Employers can declare an impasse and implement the last offer presented to the union if "good faith" bargaining fails to produce an agreement, according to the NLRB. "However, the union may disagree that true impasse has been reached and file a charge of an unfair labor practice for failure to bargain in good faith. The NLRB would determine whether true impasse was reached based on the history of negotiations and the understandings of both parties," according to the NLRB website.
If the agency finds that impasse was not reached, the employer will be asked to return to the bargaining table. In an extreme case, the NLRB may seek a federal court order to force the employer to bargain, according to the agency.
The company's last offer would provide 2 percent raises annually over six years (13 percent over the life of the contract). KapStone's attempt to cut costs with a higher deductible health care plan has proven among the major sticking points.
About 25 people rallied in muggy, warm weather Monday afternoon outside the Longview mill. An electronic reader board with the phrase "KapStone: We deserve better" was hitched to a trailer on the back of parked truck. Honking horns from passing cars and truckers were met with cheers and a blaring bull horn from protesters.
Kelly White, 32, who works in logistics and shipping for KapStone, said the company's proposed high-deductible health care plan "would be more damaging to my yearly income than beneficial."
"That coverage will not suffice for a family," said White, a father of two.
"I think the company can afford (to provide more). We're making record profits all the time, and most of us work tons of overtime. It would be a way for the company to show gratitude," White said.
Angela LeClair, a KapStone box plant worker, took issue with job transfer policies under the proposed new contract.
Box plant work is often more grueling and lower paid, LeClair said, so transferring is considered a promotion. A proposed policy would bar new employees from being able to transfer out of the box plant to the paper mill division.
"That's not good, because some people cannot do that work forever," said LeClair, who is recovering from a work-related neck injury.
Throughout the week, Local 153 representatives will meet with KapStone's regional customers and host rallies in Portland and Seattle to spread its message. The union said it also will stop by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Seattle office to raise concerns over how the mill discharges "overheated, 90 degree, acidic waste water back into the Columbia, harming the salmon runs."
KapStone officials declined to comment on the allegations but said in a prepared statement, "We have existing operating permits, both air and water, that are in effect that meet all the federal and state requirements." The company currently is renewing those permits.