ILWU launches union campaign at NORPAC paper mill in Longview

We want a union At dawn Nov. 29, a delegation of NORPAC paper mill workers gathered to tell management they’re joining a union.

By Don McIntosh

The sun hadn’t yet come up Monday Nov. 29 when a group of workers entered the NORPAC paper mill in Longview, Washington, to deliver an announcement to management: We’re unionizing. Later that day, International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 21 filed a petition asking the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election for about 160 papermakers at the mill.

Weyerhaeuser sold the NORPAC mill in 2016 to One Rock Capital Partners, a private equity firm headquartered in New York. Workers at NORPAC operate three gigantic paper machines 24 hours a day to produce over 750,000 tons of paper a year, including newsprint,  brown paper used in cardboard and paper bags, and white book and copy paper. Business appears to be solid. 

ILWU organizer Ryan Takas, on leave from Powell’s Books, says the union organizing committee set up at the nearby Regent Chinese Restaurant and over the course of three days, a majority of the papermakers dropped by to sign union cards. The committee had been laying the groundwork since April. ILWU is also working to organize roughly 220 other workers at the mill who work in maintenance, warehouse, fiberline and flexpool.

A member of the organizing commitee who spoke with the Northwest Labor Press said he and others want to unionize in order to protect what they have. After NORPAC took over the plant, it reduced staff, cut wages 10%, and halted the employer match to the 401(k) retirement plan. Because they had no union, workers had no say in those changes. They’ve also had no cost-of-living increases lately … except that on Nov. 26, just as the union signature blitz got under way, the company announced forthcoming 2.5% raise. 

Local 21 represents workers at nearby export terminals in the Port of Longview, but ILWU hasn’t represented paper mill workers up to now. Most of the unionized paper mill workers in the region are represented by Association of Western Pulp and Paper Worker (AWPPW) or by the United Steel Workers. AWPPW has attempted several times to organize the NORPAC mill, but the efforts never got to the vote stage. 

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