War of words between Nippon Paper, union in wake of new unratified contract
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Nippon Paper Industries USA millworkers work with a jumbo roll of paper in this 2010 photo. -- Peninsula Daily News archives

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Without union approval, Nippon Paper Industries USA implemented a labor contract Monday with about 130 members of the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers Local 155 employed at the plant.

Company and union officials said the hourly workers stayed on the job Monday as they produced paper for telephone books and newspapers such as Peninsula Daily News.

“A ratified contract is what we’ve always wanted,” mill Manager Harold Norlund said.

“Our intent is to run our business.”

The declining paper market has forced “cost reductions” included in the new contract, he said.

Monday, the union fired back, amending a pending unfair labor practices complaint against Nippon that was filed with the federal National Labor Relations Board in January.

That complaint had been over the stalled contract talks, said John Minor, the union’s area representative.

It now also accuses Nippon of bargaining in bad faith by implementing the pact while the two sides were negotiating a contract.

Contract implementation “elevates the level of bad-faith bargaining” on Nippon’s part, he said.

“We’re very disappointed they implemented a contract short of an agreement,” Minor said.

Minor said he expects the National Labor Relations Board to rule on the complaint by mid-April.

There are about 200 workers employed by Nippon, Norlund said.

About 130 are hourly, while nearly 70 are sales representatives, managers and Japanese corporate officials.

Greg Palleson, union vice president, was to arrive Monday in Port Angeles to be on hand for talks if they resume, Minor said.

Nippon warned the union by official notice two months ago that if an agreement was not reached in 60 days, Nippon would implement its “best and final offer” on its own on Monday, Norlund said.

“We believe we’ve complied with all of the required notices and have continued to bargain in good faith thorough all of these negotiations,” he said.

“We’ve been bargaining for 22 months, almost two years, and we were asked [for] and provided our best and final offer.”

Union members unanimously rejected the company’s “best and final” offer, which was made Feb. 25.

According to a prepared statement by Norlund on the contract impasse, electronic media have depressed demand and profitability of the printing paper market.

Nippon’s competitors have gone out of business or cut costs, he said.

“The Port Angeles mill is no longer competitive with other mils that have lowered their operating costs,” the statement said.

“To regain and maintain our ability to compete in the paper business, the company desires changes in the labor contract that will deliver both short- and long-term cost reductions.”

But the company has been “totally intransigent” in arguing for those changes, Minor said.

“They’ve given the union a series of ultimatums throughout the course of this.”

Nippon and Local 155 have made little progress on reaching agreement on key issues during nearly two years of talks, he said.

“We haven’t reached agreement on any economic items at all,” Minor said.

Economic items include wages and benefits.

The union has agreed to allow some workers to begin training to operate the new biomass-fired cogeneration plant, which goes on line in September, although it is not in the existing contract.

The facility will burn biomass for steam, which will be used to make paper and to generate 20 megawatts of electricity that will be sold to utilities and other buyers.

“We did not want to hold that hostage to negotiations,” Minor said.

Norlund said the company and Local 155 had reached tentative agreement on more than 30 noneconomic items, including cogeneration plant training and other contract policies and procedures.

“Economics tend to be a packaged bargain rather than individually approved,” Norlund said.

In his prepared statement, Norlund said the contract that was put into effect Monday offers the best chance for survival.

“The company believes the terms set forth in its final offer, in combination with many other changes that have been and continue to be made in our operation, offer the best chance of creating a cost structure that will allow the Port Angeles mill to survive, and hopefully to thrive, and for its employees to continue to have viable, local jobs well into the future.”

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 18. 2013 6:02PM
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