Nippon Paper, union talks scheduled next week

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — They are talking again.

A federal mediation session has been scheduled for Tuesday between Nippon Paper Industries USA and the Association of Western Pulp & Paper Workers, which represents 130 millworkers who went on a five-day strike beginning March 20.

Representatives of the union and paper mill also will meet May 7, union organizing coordinator Paul Cloer and Nippon supervisor Gary Holmquist said this week.

The mediation sessions will take place while the National Labor Relations Board reviews allegations by the union, which Cloer said total 17, that Nippon engaged in unfair labor practices during and after the strike.

The sessions, being overseen by federal mediator Kathleen Erskine, are being held to resolve a 23-month contract dispute.

The two sides also met April 12 in their first mediation session after the strike.

It was unclear if progress was made.

“Our position is, we won't comment on negotiations, so there is no comment on what occurred or didn't occur at the session,” Holmquist said.

Cloer said Thursday he did not know if any issues were resolved during the April 12 mediation session.

AWPPW International Vice President Greg Pallesen, who helped coordinate the March 20-24 strike, did not return calls this week for comment.

Japanese-owned Nippon manufactures paper for telephone books and catalogs, and makes newsprint for newspapers, including the Peninsula Daily News.

Workers walked off the job March 20 over stalled negotiations two days after Nippon imposed the company's contract offer, which had been rejected by union members.

Hash out differences

During mediation, union and company representatives will attempt to hash out their differences with Erskine presiding over the negotiations but also can meet privately to come to an agreement.

Company and union officials have not released copies of their contract proposals.

In a statement issued when the contract was imposed March 18, mill manager Harold Norlund said the company is facing increased competition and higher costs.

Norlund did not return calls for comment this week.

The unratified contract offer “changed everything” in wages and benefits and lowered the workers' pay, company material handler Justin Martinez of Port Angeles said March 25, the day workers returned to the plant.

He was among those who gathered along Marine Drive east of the plant, located at the base of Ediz Hook, holding pickets during the strike, which effectively shut down the plant.

As of 2010, Nippon was Clallam County's fifth-largest private employer behind 7 Cedars Casino, Westport Shipyard, Wal-Mart and Safeway, according to the county Economic Development Council's 2010 Clallam Community Profile.

Allegations

Cloer said Nippon still faces rulings by the National Labor Relations Board on 17 total unfair-labor-practice allegations — which the NLRB calls charges — that he said were filed between Jan. 3 and April 12.

Of those, 16 were submitted beginning March 26, the day after employees returned to work, Cloer said.

If the NLRB finds merit to the allegations, the agency will try to reach a settlement between Nippon and the union, NLRB Regional Director Ron Hooks said Thursday.

If a settlement cannot be reached, the NLRB will issue a complaint, which sets the matter for a hearing before an administrative law judge.

The initial allegation, filed Jan. 3, accuses Nippon of refusing to bargain in good faith and later was amended to claim Nippon unilaterally changed the conditions of employment by implementing, on its own, the company's “last and final offer.”

In the newer allegations, the union also accuses the company of restraining employees from peacefully picketing, stopping automatic deductions for union dues, harassing an employee by “physically following him around and engaging in surveillance,” and by “engaging in surveillance and spying” on workers, according to the filing.

Surveillance

The surveillance did not consist of tapping phones or other undercover measures, Cloer said.

“Basically, they are just trying to find out what people are doing,” he said of the alleged activity.

“You don't have the right to monitor union activities,” Cloer said.

“The [National Labor Relations] Board considers it surveillance.”

Cloer said the charges could be dropped if Nippon and the union reach a contract agreement.

“If we get a contract settlement, that frequently happens,” Cloer said.

Hooks said the NLRB's investigation could take up to two months.

“Given the numerous new charges, it could be a couple of months before a decision is reached,” Hooks said.

________

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: April 19. 2013 10:06AM
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