A companywide strike of union employees at Weyerhaeuser, a Seattle-based timberland company, continues as employees picket corporate locations across Washington and beyond, including the company’s South Aberdeen facility.
The strike, which began on Sept. 13, is over a company-proposed decreased retirement and increased medical premiums, all while Weyerhaeuser is showing record profits, said union representative for the Aberdeen location Chad Thomas.
“We want fairness,” Thomas said in an interview as he picketed on Tuesday. “We aren’t asking for the world.”
The company is scheduled to sit down once again with negotiators and a federal mediator on Friday.
“It’s hard to say (how it will go,)” said Jason Williams, president of W130, the local lodge of the union. “Weyerhaeuser is not willing to talk much. It’s a lawyer doing their work for them.”
Union members thanked the public for their support and solidarity throughout the strike.
“(There’s been) lots of honking, lots of waving. Other unions have brought us food. We’ve had longshoremen standing with us,” Thomas said. “Any little bit helps. We’ve had guys that had to take on part-time jobs because they’re the only provider. We ain’t bringing in any money.”
Weyerhaeuser is shutting off employee medical coverage on Friday, Thomas said.
A contentious issue
Striking members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, or IAM, have encouraged members and supporters to picket the Weyerhaeuser corporate headquarters in Seattle.
“We’re hoping there’s some traction. We don’t want to be out here but we’re forced to be out here,” Thomas said. “They gave us one offer. It was crap. 97% (of union members) voted it down.”
Other unions, including railway workers and longshoremen, are supporting the strike, Thomas said, with Weyerhaeuser lumber not being loaded or transported.
“Every contract, we lose more and more. And now they want us to pay more for medical,” said union member Robert Williamson. “They say they’re giving us a competitive wage. But they set the tone.”
Union members are currently locked out from their facilities, as well as their online payroll system, Thomas said. This is the first major strike for Weyerhaeuser since 1986, Thomas said.
“They’re being a little hard-nosed right now, won’t offer nothing,” said Matt Croswell, a 43-year employee of Weyerhaeuser and witness to the last major strike in 1986. “I figure they’ll offer us a few weeks to get hungry and offer us a nickel or two.”
Push and pull
Weyerhaeuser is pushing back in several ways against the strikers, Williams said.
“It’s starting to hit a few bumps in the other places,” Williams said. “I’m sure it’s coming this way.”
Weyerhaeuser is bringing in temporary workers and locking out strikers from their facilities, Williams said.
“Contractors, the scabs are starting to cross the lines,” Williams said. “I was in Vail this morning. They called the county sheriffs to kick us off their land. We’re locked out.”
As the strike enters its third week, union members are waiting to see if Weyerhaeuser will make a reasonable offer.
“(Weyerhaeuser)’s already lost more than they would have if they had given us what we asked for,” Williamson said. “We’re doing all this extra stuff to make them money but none of that’s coming our way.”
Weyerhaeuser offered a statement in response to a request for comment, which it has also sent to other media outlets.
“We respect the right of our union member employees to strike as part of our ongoing contract negotiation with the IAM union, and we are committed to negotiating in good faith to produce a contract that is both beneficial for employees and sustainable for the company across business cycles. Our goal is to make sure we can continue to pay competitive wages and benefits to our employees and keep our operations safely running, even in the toughest economic conditions.
“We believe our last offer is very competitive, and we fundamentally disagree with how it has been portrayed to the public. The core of what we are offering includes competitive hourly wage increases over four years, no cuts to vacation schedules, and in fact improved vacation schedules for employees with fewer than 12 years of service. Retirement benefits remain fully intact (including pension benefits for eligible employees). We are also asking that our IAM member employees begin contributing to their healthcare plan premium, as all our other U.S. employees do. We have offered to pay 97 percent of the healthcare premium, with employees responsible for only 3 percent to start. This amounts to about $17 per month for single employees and about $46 per month for employees with families. We believe this is more than fair, and the breadth and quality of coverage available through our healthcare plan remains unchanged.
“We know how important these jobs are to our employees, their families and everyone in the communities where we operate. We look forward to reaching a successful resolution to this negotiation and returning to normal operations as soon as possible.”