February 1, 2013

Sappi 'disappointed' with IBEW union vote against contract

Strike vote could come in 10 days if accord can't be reached; 60 members in local electrical workers unit; machinists, who approved contract, take wait-and-see approach

By Doug Harlow dharlow@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

SKOWHEGAN — Officials at Sappi Fine Paper offices in Boston on Friday said they are disappointed with a union vote Thursday night that could set the stage for a strike.

Electrical workers voted against a new contract and the next move is another meeting when workers can vote on a work stoppage.

“We are disappointed that the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union did not ratify the offer,” Joanna Rieke, manager of corporate communications said in a prepared statement. “It is a very fair package, with 2 percent wage increases every year and improvements in the pension, with overall wages and benefits that are extremely competitive for our industry.”

She said the company was pleased that the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union ratified the offer.

David Boudreau, of Fairfield, president of the IBEW Local 1768, said the union and the company have 10 days to come to an agreement before a strike vote is taken.

Of the estimated 780 to 800 workers at Sappi, 170 are salaried. The remaining employees are represented by four unions: machinists, with 74 members; electrical workers, with 60 members; United Steelworkers, with 465 members; and Security, Police & Fire, Professionals of America, the mill’s security group, with 15 members, Rieke said.

David Sullivan, of Richmond, business agent for IAMAW Dustrict 4, the machinists union that approved the contract, said his union will wait to see what the electrical workers do next before commenting on picket lines.

“If there is a strike vote that would put the IAM and the steel workers in the same position,” he said. “I’m not concerned with that at this point until we figure out what they’re actually going to do.”

Julie Rabinowitz, spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Labor, said there is a history in the state of separate unions being at odds over contracts at the same workplace.

“There can be very hard feelings,” she said. “They don’t always agree.”

Most recently, she said, during a bakers union strike at Hostess Brands, members of the Teamsters Union continued to work, but were careful not to cross picket lines.

Rabinowitz said products to be shipped were brought outside to the waiting Teamsters for transport, so workers didn’t have to physically cross a picket line

“It’s a little different in a facility where there are multiple unions and everyone needs to go into the facility to be able to work because there would be a need to cross the picket line,” she said. “At the paper mill it’s a little different than what the Hostess situation was.”

Duane Lugdon, the local staff representative for steel workers at the Sappi mill did not immediately return a call for comment Friday.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367
dharlow@centralmaine.com

 

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