Members of Teamsters Local 284 relayed their reasons for why they went on strike at International Paper in Delaware at a City Council meeting Monday night.
Striking workers have stationed their picket lines at three entrances of the manufacturing plant, which makes corrugated boxes, at 865 Pittsburgh Drive and the warehouse just down the road for nearly 12 weeks. The union rejected a contract last summer and the company has not budged from its position.
Employees now work 68 hours a week, but the new contract would increase those hours to 84 and require work on holidays and Sundays, according to Don Mann, business agent for Teamsters 284.
He said the company’s final offer poses a quality of life issue as working more hours takes time away from church, family and other opportunities to be involved with the community. Mann also presented council with studies that indicate employees working 55 hours a week puts their health and safety at higher risk.
“We’re not being greedy,” Mann said. “It’s not the wages. It’s not the benefits.”
Mann said that under the old contract, workers would be penalized for not working obligated overtime on Saturdays, including a five-day suspension on the first occurrence and termination on the second. Those polices have made it a struggle for families to make plans as notices to work overtime are posted Thursdays, Mann said.
Under a proposed new contract, obligated overtime would extend to weekdays and the penalties would include verbal and written warnings before suspension and termination, Mann said.
International Paper has issued a statement to the union’s claims, released by company spokeswoman Laura Clark: “The union’s allegations about our position in negotiations are false. We have been clear and explicit from the beginning that we have no intention of requiring employees to work the number of hours alleged by the union, and we have provided them a statement to that effect in writing. In fact, the company has proposed a reduction in the discipline for employees who fail to work overtime. The Delaware facility currently works a five-day, three-shift operation. On occasion, it is necessary to schedule overtime or weekend work to meet customer demands. We have proposed eliminating some limits on scheduling so that we have the flexibility to meet customer commitments should we be required to do so.”
Some of the 140 employees, many of whom have worked at the plant for 10 to 30 years, spoke to council about the unfavorable working conditions at the plant.
Employees Shawn Murphy of Delaware and Emily Gallagher of Marion are veterans and agreed that the military treated them and their families better.
Murphy said he worked at the plant under Weyerhauser and International Paper, interspersed with military deployments during that time. He said the plant had “a completely different vibe” under the current ownership.
Murphy added that the job makes it hard to find time as an assistant coach for his son’s baseball team. But that position is in jeopardy if the company get its way with increasing hours, he said.
Gallagher is a single mother and said she didn’t support the strike but it has allowed her to spend more time with her two children.
“This time I had with my family is priceless,” she said.
Mann also said International Paper has cut back on its involvement with the community, including a blood drive with United Way and displaying an entry in city parades.
“There are a lot of things I just don’t understand about International Paper,” he said.
“The Delaware plant has operated since 1974 and employs more than 140 employees,” according to the company. “We are committed to the community and have made significant capital investments at the Delaware facility in recent years. The International Paper Foundation is the philanthropic outreach of the company and supports the communities where our employees live and work through grants targeting several focus areas. Non-profit organizations are encouraged to apply at ipgiving.com.”
Mayor Carolyn Kay Riggle said the city will look into the matter.
“I had no idea how bad this was,” she said.
Plant workers will hold a potluck at a shelter house at the Delaware Dam at 3 p.m. Aug. 2.
Brandon Klein can be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.