Memphis, Tennessee, USA 23 October 2012 -- The United Steelworkers (USW), North America’s largest industrial union, recently announced that workers ratified an agreement this week to integrate about 1,400 workers at 18 former Temple Inland box plants into the union’s master economic agreement with International Paper (IP), with 90% of the ballots cast in favor of the contract.
Overall, the union represents about 4,000 workers at 61 IP box plants, along with some 6,000 hourly employees at 19 IP paper mills. This was the second recent negotiation at IP, where a month ago an agreement to integrate former Temple-Inland mills into the IP master was ratified by nearly the same margin, bringing a total of 80 sites represented by 90 local unions into the IP master agreements.
USW International President Leo W. Gerard credited membership solidarity and shop floor activism at and between the plants for the successful integration of the Temple-Inland locals into the IP system, which began earlier this year when IP purchased its former competitor.
“Especially when bargaining with huge corporations like IP, our members understand that standing together in unity to fight for a fair contract gives us power at the bargaining table,” Gerard said.
USW International Secretary-Treasurer Stan Johnson, who chairs the union’s IP council, said that integrating workers from Temple-Inland, where pay, benefits and other conditions varied widely by location, into IP’s more uniform structure presented a unique challenge in negotiations.
“Labor agreements with IP are very standardized across the system and standardization has occurred in every previous acquisition,” Johnson said. “Confronting this standardization and building opportunity out of it was the main challenge of these negotiations.”
USW International Vice President Jon Geenen, co-chair of the union’s IP council, said that these discussions marked a significant departure from – and improvement to – the traditional location-by-location approach to integration into the IP system, and more importantly, secured the future of these important facilities within the system.
“We’ve achieved a fair contract that improves and protects our wages and benefits while at the same time enhancing the long-term viability and security of our plants, our jobs and our union,” Geenen said. “Our negotiating committee showed tremendous leadership and solidarity in working through a complicated and sometimes frustrating process, and our union is stronger as a result.”
The USW is North America’s largest industrial union, representing 850,000 workers in metals, mining, pulp and paper, rubber, chemicals, glass, auto supply and the energy-producing industries.