UPDATE: Fewer pickets outside shuttered Nippon paper mill
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Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
Nippon Paper Industries USA paper machine tenders Ernie Whitney, left, and Lonny McCaslin walk a picket line near the mill this morning.
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Rick Burton of Port Angeles, a papermaker for Nippon Paper Industries USA, walks down the Waterfront Trail from a gathering of fellow pickets after Wednesday’s walkout by the company’s unionized employees. -- Photo by Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — About a half-dozen Nippon Paper Industries USA employees stayed through Wednesday night and into early this morning in an area being picketed as part of a contract-related strike by about 130 members of the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers.

The mill has shut down production.

Mill employee Brad Landes said at 8:30 a.m. that he was among about six employees who spent the night stationed along Marine Drive east of the plant.

Landes, huddled with other workers under a portable canopy at the base of Hill Street and Marine Drive, said he spent about four hours of the night standing outside.

By 11 a.m. today, the number of sign-wielding pickets grew to about 24 employees as the strike that began 24 hours earlier, on Wednesday, continued with what a union official said was no end in sight.

The next talks will occur when federal mediator Kathleen Erskine sits down with company and union negotiators in an attempt to hammer out a deal, union Vice President Greg Pallesen said this morning.

A Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service spokesman said this morning that the mediation session is scheduled for the first week in April but would not give a specific date.

Mill Manager Harold Norlund did not return a call for comment this morning.

Contract talks broke down Monday between the union and the company, which manufactures paper for telephone books, catalogs and newspapers such as the Peninsula Daily News.

On Monday morning, without union ratification, Nippon imposed a new contract on the employees.

The company and the union had been negotiating without success for 22 months on a new agreement.



Earlier report:

PORT ANGELES — Some of the approximately 130 Nippon Paper Industries USA employees who walked off the job late Wednesday morning will picket around the clock on a sidewalk near the closed plant, a top union official said.

Greg Pallesen, vice president of the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, said about 130 workers in Local 155 voted unanimously to go on strike Wednesday, two days after Nippon imposed a contract that union members already had rejected.

But Nippon and the union also have agreed to attempt to restart their dialogue under the auspices of federal mediation.

Pallesen renewed that pledge Wednesday, saying “absolutely” that union representatives will meet with mediator Kathleen Erskine as soon as her schedule allows.

Mill Manager Harold Norlund did not return calls for comment Wednesday, though he has said the company is committed to mediating the dispute.

John Minor, the union's area representative, said mediation could occur as early as next week.

Pallesen said he served the company with a strike notice early Wednesday morning, and workers began leaving their posts at 11 a.m.

Rod Weekes, a member of Local 155's bargaining board, said the plant was being shut down as they walked out.

By about 12:30 p.m. that day, about 60 workers were walking back and forth on a sidewalk just east of the plant in driving rain.

Most held picket signs with the AWPPW acronym and logo on the top and the word “STRIKE” stenciled below.

On the back of one sign, a worker had written, “How do you like us now, eh?”

Norlund said in an earlier interview that the unratified contract that was implemented Monday was the company's “best and final offer.”

Workers unanimously had rejected that offer.

“We'll be out here until we decide to quit,” Pallesen said Wednesday as workers huddled under umbrellas.

Mill employees wanted to strike sooner, “but this is when we did it,” he said.

Pallesen met with Norlund on Friday but would not comment on their discussion.

“We'll take whatever action we need to do and go from there,” Pallesen said.

As the weather grew colder and windier late Wednesday afternoon, Weekes said at least six workers would picket through the night.

Bargaining for a new contract began 22 months ago.

The two sides have not yet broached economic topics such as wages and benefits, Minor said.

“We are at square one,” he said. “We were looking at their proposal, they were looking at our proposal, and we were trying to get close enough to strike a deal.

“There will be give-and-take on both sides, and you try to close the gap when you get down to where you think you can talk back and forth,” Minor continued.

“We're not anywhere near that point yet.”

The union has filed an unfair-labor-practices complaint against Nippon with the National Labor Relations Board over the stalled talks.

It amended that complaint Monday after the contract was imposed, saying Nippon committed an unfair labor practice by implementing the pact while the two sides were still negotiating.

The mill produces telephone-book paper; uncoated mechanical grades for catalogs, magazines and shoppers; and newsprint used by newspapers, including the Peninsula Daily News.

The declining paper market forced the company to make cost reductions that are contained in the new contract, Norlund said in an earlier interview.

More than an hour before the walkout, Nippon employees had a scare that prompted an extensive response from law enforcement but turned out to be harmless.

A device that “had the appearance of an explosive device” was found at about 9:45 a.m. on the table of a conference room at the west side of the plant near the shipping-and-receiving office where a meeting was scheduled, Deputy Police Chief Brian Smith said.

The object had a rope coming out of it that looked like a fuse, he said.

Workers were evacuated within 200 feet, a blast blanket was placed in front of the door, and a State Patrol bomb specialist examined the device.

The State Patrol X-rayed it and determined it was nothing to be concerned about, Smith said.

“It was an empty container, basically.”

There was no evidence to indicate who put the object on the conference table, Smith added.

“We are not going to speculate,” he said.

________

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

Last modified: March 21. 2013 12:23PM
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