PORT TOWNSEND — Port Townsend Paper Corp. and United Steelworkers Local 175 have come to an agreement on a five-year contract after minor revisions to a deal that failed in January.
The contract was approved by the United Steelworkers (USW) Local 175 on Feb. 7 with 115 votes for and 32 votes against the deal.
“We thought negotiations went well,” said Felix Vicino, the human resources manager for Port Townsend Paper Corp.
“We did a lot of bargaining in the middle of December and it barely failed the first time we voted in January.”
The new contract phases out benefits such as early retirement health insurance and a premium for Sunday shift workers. However, Vicino said these benefits have been phased out of the industry in general and needed to be cut to keep the mill competitive.
“We held on to everything as long as we could,” said Phil Dupuy, the president of USW Local 175.
“It makes it tougher to compete in the time that we’re in, but we’re still in business and everyone is still making enough money to support their families. That’s the most important thing. It is to me anyway.”
The contract will go into effect March 1 and run through Feb. 28, 2022.
While the new contract doesn’t include a general wage increase for workers this year, it does provide cash payments as ratification bonuses in return for union members agreeing to cut the early retirement health coverage, Sunday premiums and money for meals.
The contract does call for a wage increase of 1.5 percent in March 2018 and increases of 2 percent in March of 2019, 2020 and 2021.
Tour shift workers will also receive bonuses of $3,586 and non-tour shift workers will see a $1,336 bonus through 2020.
The new agreement did get rid of retirement medical insurance so workers 60 to 65 with 10 years service as of Dec. 31, 2017, will be eligible to receive monthly payments of $550 for themselves and their eligible dependants to go toward purchasing health insurance.
This will continue until the worker and their spouse reach 65 and will end for dependants when they turn 26.
Workers who are 55 and older with 30 years of service will receive a one-time payment of $2,500 effective March 1.
These cuts were in the January version of the contract, which narrowly failed, but Vicino said when they renegotiated in January they were able to move some funds around to provide the ratification bonuses for agreeing to the cuts.
“These are benefits not many places have anymore,” Vicino said.
“These have been phased out of the industry and we did this to be more competitive moving forward.”
As one of the largest employers in Port Townsend, staying competitive is important to keep the mill in business, which is worth it, according to Dupuy.
“This mill has been supported by local families since it first started,” Dupuy said. “We want to keep it that way.”
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 55052, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.