Nippon Paper seeks new workers while union continues strike
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Nippon Paper Industries USA machine tenders Ernie Whitney, left, and Lonny McCaslin, both of Port Angeles, walk the picket line near the Port Angeles paper mill on Thursday morning. -- Photo by Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Nippon Paper Industries USA is seeking new workers while its 130 hourly employees affiliated with the Association of Western Pulp & Paper Workers remained on strike Thursday.

The unionists walked off the job at 11 a.m. Wednesday, shutting down production at the mill located at the base of Ediz Hook.

Contract talks broke down Monday between union and mill officials after Nippon imposed a contract that mill Manager Harold Norlund called Nippon’s “best and final offer” — but which Local 155 members had unanimously rejected.

In Thursday’s Peninsula Daily News, Nippon sought applicants in classified advertising for nine job classifications at the plant.

In today’s print editions, a display ad says that the company is “now hiring.”

The ad says that “successful applicants are intended to be hired as permanent replacement workers.”

In response to repeated requests for an interview, Norlund issued a statement Thursday afternoon:

“Our priority right now is for the safety of our employees, taking care of our environmental responsibilities and plant security,” the statement said.

“We do not plan to make any press releases at this time.”

Nippon manufactures paper for telephone books and catalogs and for newspapers such as the Peninsula Daily News.

Meanwhile, about 24 employees continued wielding picket signs on both sides of Marine Drive east of the shuttered Nippon mill at noon Thursday.

The job action will continued with no end in sight, said AWPPW Vice President Greg Pallesen, who was in Port Angeles on Thursday.

A date for the strike to end “just depends on continued legal action,” he said.

The next talks will occur when federal mediator Kathleen Erskine sits down with company and union negotiators in an attempt to hammer out a deal, Pallesen said.

Union members are staying at the Marine Drive location in shifts around the clock.

Pallesen said the Nippon strike is the only job walkout among locals under the Portland, Ore.-based AWPPW’s purview.

The union has about 5,000 union members who are affiliated with 21 AWPPW locals, mostly on the West Coast and in Virginia.

“We’ve had more strikes in the last three years than we’ve had in 30 years,” Pallesen said.

“People are fed up and sick of this.”

The strike may be the only one of its kind in the country, human resources and labor specialist Scott Dean said.

Dean works for Tigard, Ore.-based Vigilant, a nonprofit provider of legal advice in the areas of human resources and labor for pulp and paper companies.

“To the best of my knowledge, there are no other strikes among pulp and paper mills in the U.S.,” Dean said Thursday, estimating there are more 300 pulp and paper mills across the country.

Nippon has claimed that the declining paper market has forced “cost reductions” that are contained in the contract the company imposed Monday.

Contract talks began 22 months ago, with little progress made on issues involving wages and benefits, union and company officials have said.

Action related to the dispute is proceeding on two fronts: through the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and the National Labor Relations Board.

The AWPPW has filed an unfair labor practice charge against Nippon with the National Labor Relations Board that was related to the stalled talks.

In an amended charge that was filed Monday, the union claimed Nippon committed an unfair labor practice by imposing the contract while talks were under way.

The striking workers’ jobs could depend on the NLRB’s ruling, Regional Director Ron Hooks said Thursday.

A union files a charge against a company, while a complaint is what the NLRB issues if the matter is heard before an administrative law judge, Hooks explained.

“If we find that the call for the strike was because of the employer’s unfair labor practice, that would make the strike an unfair labor practice strike,” Hooks said.

“That would mean employees would be entitled to their jobs back when they unconditionally offer to return to work.”

If Hooks rules that it is not an unfair labor practice strike, “the employer would have the legal right to permanently replace striking employees,” he said.

If a settlement over the charge cannot be reached between the AWPPW and Nippon, the National Labor Relations Board will issue a complaint, Hooks said.

It will be adjudicated by an administrative law judge for a final ruling, Hooks said.

Hooks said he expects to issue a ruling in six weeks to two months.

The union and Nippon have agreed to attempt to mediate the dispute before federal mediator Kathleen Erskine.

A Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service spokesman said Thursday that the session is scheduled for the first week in April but would not give a specific date.

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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 21. 2013 6:47PM
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