The strike by members of Teamsters 284 at International Paper Co. is concluding its seventh week, with no end in sight.
“The union continues to strike,” said company spokeswoman Laura G. Clark in an email. “We remain hopeful our employees will return to work, and we continue to be open to discussions with union leadership. Throughout the strike, we have continued to meet with the union and previously made several proposals designed to address the union’s issues. Unfortunately, the union did not put those proposals to a vote. It is of the utmost importance that we get a new contract ratified as soon as possible and have our employees return to work.”
At each International entrance on Pittsburgh Drive, there are up to three striking employees holding signs and encouraging motorists to honk in support. When the strike started, there were more strikers on the picket line, but an injunction filed by the company limited their numbers.
The Teamsters had been in negotiation with the company for 10 months without resolution before going on strike in May.
“Out of respect for the union and the ongoing negotiation process, it would be improper to discuss specific details of our negotiations,” Clark said.
Workers say they are paid well, but the company now wants them to work 84-hour weeks, or 12 hours daily. They said the company has not budged on its position.
“My husband loves his job, but he has missed so much in his children’s life,” wrote a wife of an International employee to The Gazette after the strike was announced.
“They want us in here seven days a week and not spend any time with our family,” said an unidentified striker shortly after the strike began. “It just keeps getting worse.”
“Staffing and overtime levels are consistently monitored, and decisions are made based on a number of variables, including the sustained needs of our customers,” Clark said.
Conditions at the corrugated box factory are hot and dusty, employees said, with faulty equipment and poor ventilation.
The 130 employees, many of whom have worked at the corrugated box-making factory for 10 to 30 years, said conditions were better when the plant was run by Weyerhauser or Boise Cascade. 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.
Striking employees have said there are replacement workers coming into the factory, but production is a fraction of what it had been.
“We continue to deliver quality products and service using our contingency plan,” Clark said.
Calls to Don Mann, business agent for Teamsters 284 and representing the strikers, seeking comment were not returned as The Gazette went to press.
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.