By DON McINTOSH
Weyerhaeuser workers across Oregon and Washington returned to work with a new union contract Oct. 31—after a 48-day strike that cost the company well over $50 million.
The four-year collective bargaining agreement was narrowly approved at in-person union meetings held October 25 to 27 in Centralia, Raymond, and Longview, Washington, and Springfield, Santiam, and North Bend, Oregon. The vote was 54.9% in favor, with close to 85% of the total membership voting.
The new agreement covers 1,192 workers at four sawmills, two log export facilities, two statewide log truck operations, and seven logging camps. They’re members of four woodworker locals of the International Association of Machinists.
It raises wages 14% over the four years, starting with a 5.5% increase retroactive to June 1. Wages at Weyerhaeuser average about $26 an hour. The agreement also includes a $3,000 signing bonus. It increases the pay premium for working swing, graveyard and weekend shifts to $1 an hour, up from $0.60. It adds a second week of paid vacation to workers in their first three years on the job (it rises gradually to five weeks a year in year 20). Finally, it allows workers to be paid annually for any unused sick leave; previously they were paid only for part of it.
But the agreement also contains what union members look at as a concession: For the first time, they’ll be paying a portion of health insurance premiums directly from their paychecks. The company backed off its earlier insistence that workers pay a percentage of premiums. Instead they’ll pay a fixed dollar amount that stays the same throughout the four-year contract: $24 a month for indivudual coverage, or about $70 for family coverage.
“We think it’s the best that we can get at this time,” said Brandon Bryant at an Oct. 21 union rally outside Local W246 in Springfield. Bryant, a longtime millworker, led negotiations as directing business representative of District Lodge W24. “We only got the best that we can get this time because of the strength of our members and what they did in holding them accountable.”
“I look at it as a sparring match,” Bryant said. “You’re gonna get punched, and you’re gonna give a bunch of punches. And I think we’ve hit the company pretty hard. I think we’ve been hit pretty hard. But what happens when that sparring match is over? We grow stronger. Our Machinists union—our four locals that are on strike—are stronger now.”
In an Oct. 28 earnings call for investors and analysts, Weyerhaeuser executives detailed the impacts of what they called “the work stoppage”—860,000 tons of logs not harvested, and 230 million board feet of lumber not milled. Those figures include both the third quarter, which ended Sept. 30, and the fourth. The strike cost the company about $50 million in earnings just on the logging side of its operation, not counting the mills. Weyerhaeuser’s gross earnings dropped 52% in the third quarter compared to the second quarter, but CEO Devin Stockfish attributed that primarily to “softening” in pricing for lumber and oriented strand board, and only “to a lesser degree” what he called “the work stoppage.”
Weyerhaeuser has over 9,000 employees at operations around the United States and Canada, and owns more than 19,000 square miles of timberland, so the 1,200 strikers were only a fraction of its workforce.
The strike was the first at Weyerhaeuser’s Northwest operations since 1986. There were no reports of members crossing the picket line.
Bryant said the strike was hard; members went without paychecks, dug into savings and cashed out 401(k) funds.But in his view it was a necessary fight against corporate greed: “We are the David to the corporate Goliath, fighting against them and asking for our fair share.”
Weyerhaeuser workers rejected two previous offers. With an improved offer ratified, they returned to work Oct. 31 for safety meetings, and production resumed Nov. 1.
“Our members love what we do,” Bryant said at the Oct. 21 rally. “We’re log truck drivers, we’re log yard workers, we’re maintenance personnel, we’re sawmill workers, we’re loggers. That’s what we do. And we want to get back to work.”