Members of Teamsters Local 284 say they have gone on strike at International Paper in Delaware because of excessive hours.
Striking workers set up picket lines at the three entrances of the manufacturing plant at 865 Pittsburgh Drive, as well as at an International Paper warehouse just down the road. Truck drivers often honked in support of the pickets as they drove by on a rainy Monday.
“We are disputing an unfair contract,” said a man on the picket line who would only identify himself as a spokesman for Teamsters 284. “They want us in here seven days a week and not spend any time with our family. It just keeps getting worse. They brought in several truckloads of scabs (replacement workers willing to cross a union picket line).”
“For the most part, it’s not about money,” said another striker. “It’s about taking us away from our families.”
The plant makes corrugated boxes, including for Delaware businesses such as PPG, JEGS and AHP.
The 130 employees, many of whom have worked at the plant for 10 to 30 years, said conditions were good when it was run by Weyerhauser or Boise Cascade. However, now that the plant is under International Paper, attitudes have soured among the Delaware employees. The union rejected a contract last summer and, despite a mediator being present at recent negotiations, the company has not budged on its position.
Don Mann, business agent for Teamsters 284, represents the International Paper strikers.
“They (International) have been trying to negotiate their proposal on unlimited overtime,” Mann said. “Right now, they can work 68 hours a week. They want seven days a week, holidays, 12 hours a day if they want it, no limitations. They’ll be working them 84 hours a week. They say, that’s not our intent. My question to them was, if it’s not your intent, why are you asking for it? Has a customer complained, or have we missed an order — is there something that makes you want to do this? They said, just because they want it, and we got it everywhere else.”
While some of the company’s plants have unlimited overtime, Mann said that some International plants use swing shifts and other scheduling practices to limit hours.
In recent weeks, International has had some of the Delaware employees working 72 hours a week, which Mann said constitutes an unfair labor practice. The increased hours also caused the employees to end negotiations on Saturday.
“That’s too much — it’s hard on these people,” he said. “It’s hot in the summertime, it’s dirty and nasty with dust. Let’s work out some sort of schedule where people don’t have to work their life away.”
Laura Clark, a spokeswoman for International, issued a statement from the company.
“We received notice that the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 284 that represents employees at our Delaware (Ohio) plant made the decision to go out on strike,” the statement said. “At this point, we have presented our best offer to the union, which includes wage and benefit improvements. It is a fair and competitive proposal that balances the needs of employees with the reality of competitive pressures in our business. We will continue to work with union representatives as the lines of communications between the plant and union remain open. We are committed to providing a safe and rewarding work environment for our employees. We are committed to providing the best quality service and products to our customers. Therefore, we have developed a detailed contingency plan that enables the continued operation of our plant.”
According to its website, International Paper is “a global leader in the paper and packaging industry with manufacturing operations in North America, Europe, Latin America, Asia and North Africa.” The company’s headquarters is in Memphis, Tennessee.
Members of Teamsters 284 stand in the rain in front of International Paper. The workers say they are on strike because of excessive hours.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.