First paper production expected tonight after Nippon workers return
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Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Nippon paper mill manager Harold Norlund said pulp-making machines have to be heated up before any paper gets made. The machines have been idle since last week's strike action.

By Leah Leach
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — When union workers return to their jobs at Nippon Paper Industries USA today, they will spend several hours warming up the machines before any paper is produced.

It takes awhile to rev up a paper machine that's been idle, said Harold Norlund, manager of the mill on Marine Drive at the foot of Ediz Hook.

“It's cold,” Norlund said. “We have to get the paper machines steamed and hot, and we have to make pulp.”

Some 130 members of Local 155 of the Association of Western Pulp & Paper Workers walked off the job Wednesday.

Union officials said Friday that they would return to work today.

Union bargaining board member Rod Weekes has said that workers “didn't want to do irreparable harm to [Nippon]. We want this to be a successful company, and we want to be part of it.”

Union members walked off the job after a unanimous strike vote following Nippon's implementation a week ago of a contract that union members had already rejected.

Norlund had said the contract was the company's “best and final offer.

Requests for comment about returning workers from union officials were not returned last weekend.

The first workers will arrive between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. this morning, Norlund said, and the first paper will be produced tonight on one of the paper machines.

“You have to take it very slow when you are warming up a paper machine,” Norlund said.

The target temperature is 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

One of the machines had been broken down for maintance when workers left, he said.

That machine will need about 16 hours of work before it is heated, and it won't produce for at least 24 hours, perhaps Tuesday morning, Norlund said.

Steam seen rising from the plant stack at times during the strike was from the company having the heat on in the building to protect the plant, the mill manager said.

Although strikers have retuned to work, union-company contract negotiations, which have been going on for the last 22 months, will continue, Greg Palleson, vice president of the International Association of Western Pulp & Paper Workers, has said.

But talks aren't likely to resume until mediation with federal mediator Kathleen Erskine, he added.

A session is now scheduled for the first week of April, but it could be earlier depending upon Erskine's schedule, Pallesen said.

The AWPPW had filed an unfair labor practice charge against Nippon with the National Labor Relations Board that was related to the stalled talks and which accused the company of refusing to bargain in good faith.

The charge has been amended since the company imposed the contract.

In the amended charge, the company is accused of “unilaterally changing terms and conditions of employment when it implemented its last and final offer in the absence of impasse, and while information from the union remains outstanding.”

The union will not withdraw the charge, Pallesen said.

The charge will be ruled upon in six weeks to two months, NLRB Regional Director Ron Hooks said.

Striking workers did not include salaried employees. A total of just under 200 people work at the mill, Norlund said.

The mill manager said the plant did not have inventory with which to fill orders during the strike and couldn't keep up with contracts.

Customers “just bought from other places,” Norlund said. “There's lots of places to buy paper.”

The mill won't double up to make up for lost time, he said.

“We already run 24/7,” he said. “There's no way of catching up.”

Managing Editor/News Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3531 or at leah.leach@peninsuladailynews.com.



Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb contributed to this story.

Last modified: March 24. 2013 6:12PM
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