Paper giant improves its offer after nine-day strike


About 140 workers at a North Portland paper packaging factory struck on July 17—and stayed out until July 26. With the help of a federal mediator, Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers (AWPPW) Local 78 reached a tentative contract agreement July 28 with Graphic Packaging International. Members will vote on it any day. They had been working without general raises since their previous contract ended Feb. 28, 2020.

It was the first time workers at the plant had struck since 1978. Once owned by Crown Zellerbach, the plant at 3400 N. Marine Drive has gone through multiple owners: James River, Fort James Corporation, Georgia-Pacific, and now Graphic Packaging International, based in Georgia. A giant in the folding carton and paper-based foodservice product industry, it has 24,000 employees at 130 facilities worldwide. Its Portland plant makes packets for Kraft Jello and Quaker instant oatmeal, french fry bags for Lamb Weston, and other familiar brand packaging.

AWPPW said the walkout was called to protest an unfair labor practice by the company, namely that it went around the bargaining team and communicated directly with members. But the underlying disagreement was about temps: Graphic Packaging wanted to bring in up to 24 temps without restriction, who would be paid less for doing the same work as members.

“They’re trying to break the union,” said a picketer who gave her name as Monte on Day Three of the strike. “They’re trying to bring in temps.”

In four-hour picket shifts, strikers maintained a picket at all five gates, plus a tent at a nearby gravel parking lot. Monte and other strikers could see that little was happening inside the plant while they were out. The company brought in a few workers from its nonunion facilities in Gresham and Vancouver, but trucks that would normally be loaded in half an hour were taking over two hours to load, and as few as three a day were departing, compared to two dozen normally. 

Strikers’ spirits were lifted by solidarity from other unions. Teamsters Joint Council 37 issued a letter sanctioning the strike, which gave Teamster-represented truck drivers the contractual right to refuse to cross picket lines. Longshore Local 8 also pledged support. And teachers union staff and members showed up at the picket line with bottled water.

Under the tentative agreement, the company may hire up to 12 temps up to 90 days, after which they become members with full rights. And pay, typically $24 an hour, will increase at least $2 an hour immediately, followed by 2.5% and 2% raises later. [Pay will rise $4 for millwrights and mechanics and $5 for electricians.]



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