Nippon mill back running ‘without an issue,’ manager says
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Workers at the Nippon Paper Industries USA mill in Port Angeles start their lunch period Monday, the first day of work after a short strike by pulp and paper union members last week. -- Photo by Arwyn Rice/Peninsula Daily News

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Union workers employed by Nippon Paper Industries USA returned to work Monday morning after walking off the job last week in protest over stalled contract talks.

“People came to work, and they’re glad to be back and immediately went to work without an issue,” mill Manager Harold Norlund said Monday.

Nippon is keeping five new strike-replacement employees who are included in the approximately 130 hourly employees at the paper factory.

Nippon, which advertised Thursday, Friday and over the weekend in the Peninsula Daily News for workers to take the place of the strikers, hired them before the Association of Western Pulp & Paper Workers notified the company Friday that Local 155 members were returning to work, Norlund said.

No current employees will lose their jobs, Norlund added. “We have vacancies now,” he said.

One of the mill’s two paper machines was running by noon Monday, and the second paper machine should be on line by this morning, Norlund said.

He said a federal mediation session between Nippon and the union is set for April 5 at the Red Lion Hotel in Port Angeles, where applicants were interviewed last week to replace the strikers

No talks other than the April 5 session have been scheduled, he said.

Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service mediator Kathleen Erskine will adjudicate the meeting.

Erskine also oversaw a March 7 mediation session that led to the breakdown of contract talks after 22 months of negotiations.

At that meeting, Nippon made a “declaration of impasse,” giving the union 10 days notice that the company would impose a contract that was already unanimously rejected by workers, unless the sides reached a negotiated settlement, Norlund said.

Nippon imposed the contract, which Norlund said was the company’s “last and final offer,” the morning of March 18.

Workers walked off the job at 11 a.m. Wednesday and set up round-the-clock picketing just east of the mill in four-hour shifts until midafternoon Friday.

That’s when the AWPPW gave Nippon notice that its workers were willing to return to their jobs Monday.

Nippon manufactures paper for telephone books and catalogs and makes newsprint for newspapers, including the Peninsula Daily News.

Nippon material handler Justin Martinez, 25, of Port Angeles, was among the pickets who returned to work.

“It was really cold, but it was worth it,” Martinez said early Monday morning while standing outside the plant at the base of Ediz Hook.

“I feel like we’ve got to stick up for one another.”

Martinez, a Nippon employee for five months, said the company imposed a contract that “changed everything” in wages and benefits and lowered the workers’ pay.

“It seems like they’ve got us on every level,” he said.

Still, Martinez was glad to be back to work, adding that he is “fairly hopeful” the sides can negotiate a contract.

Norlund would not release a copy of the company’s proposed contract.

“We do not intend to negotiate in the newspaper,” he said.

Norlund said last week in a prepared statement that the company is facing increased competition and higher costs.

Union officials did not return repeated calls Monday for comment and have not released a copy of their counterproposal.

Nippon, which does not stock inventory, makes paper to order, Norlund said.

Last week during the strike, orders that were completed before the walkout were shipped out by the mill’s salaried personnel, he said.

The company still faces a ruling by National Labor Relations Board Regional Director Ron Hooks on an amended unfair labor practice charge filed by the union March 18, the day the unratified contract was imposed.

The original charge, filed Jan. 3, said the company had refused to bargain in good faith “including engaging in bargaining with no intention of reaching agreement.”

The amended charge says the company’s “last and final offer” was implemented March 18 “in the absence of impasse” and while the union was waiting for additional information, which Local 155 bargaining board member Rod Weekes said later was financial in nature.

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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 25. 2013 6:07PM
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