Thursday, June 12, 2014

Contract negotiations

Every 4 or 5 years during the first couple months of summer our lives are placed on hold while the union and the company hash out a new contract. This, unfortunately, is one of those years. I first experienced this phenomena in June of 2000. I was a new hire at the time. I had worked at Longview Fibre 9 months prior to the contract expiring. It was a fair contract that year. We recieved 3% raise per year for 4 years. Our pension at the time was over funded so excess interest was divided up among hourly employees. We each recieved $1,100 dollars per year of service to keep in a cash account for our golden years. As a new hire I recieved the 5 year minimum amount. Four years later it was much the same. The raises were a little smaller and there were no cash bonuses but there were also no take aways. The contract of 2004 was the last good contract we have seen in 10 years. Shortly after that the company sold to an investment firm who set to work cutting the work force in half and shutting down 7 of the 12 paper machines. We felt lucky if we still had a job. The mill site had been using the 650 million acres of timberland to offset annual losses. The new owners separated the mill from the timber and gave us the option to sink or swim. We learned how to swim. The new owners told us at the time they bought the company that there would be changes and a lot of jobs would disappear. They also told us that for those who remained we would be rewarded if the mill became profitable. They were honest about the first two statements. 
   Four years ago are reward amounted to an anemic 1% annual raise and the end of our defined pension. My pension was frozen at $582 a month. Any hope of a good retirement relies solely on the stock market and my 401k.
   Last year Brookfield asset management sold the mill to Kapstone paper and packaging. We were thrilled to once again be owned by a paper maker. We had just completed our most successful year ever recorded, beating our projected profit goal by an entire year and $17 million dollars. We had made 217 million dollars a year earlier than we were asked to do.
Elated to be owned by a new company and having happy stock holders who were receiving large dividends, we were cautiously optimistic that we would finally be rewarded for the long hours and dedication we had demonstrated over the last 6 years. So far, it appears that we were mistaken.
   Last week the company presented their first offer. I feel as though I have been slapped in the face. They are asking for a 5 year contract that gives us 1% raises each year and strips us of over $300 dollars a month in benefits. I realize it is early in the game but I feel sick inside.
   Ever since my diagnosis 8 years ago my view of the world has changed somewhat. I have more respect for life. I rarely will squash a bug unless it is a spider which I have deemed far too scarey to live. I see things in a different light I suppose. I am appalled at the all encompassing greed of the world. I expect it but for some reason it still surprises me. When will the haves of the world have enough that they no longer need to take it from the have nots?. How much money is enough? The value of our currency keeps dropping. The 4% pay raise I recieved over the last five years is eclipsed by the rate of inflation. The city of Seattle legislated a $15 an hour minimum wage. Soon the cost of goods and services will be such that people like myself working skilled labor professions will no longer be able to provide for their families. Once upon a time labor unions got greedy. They went too far and Ronald Reagan took away their claws. Many of the gains my father and grandfather fought for are gone. The pendulum has swung and labor must once again fight for their piece of the American dream. I fear blood will once again flow until balance is restored. It is we who run and maintain the machine. It is we who drive this economy down the road. It is we who must stand as idle observers when the wheels fall off. We can no longer be passive as our incomes shrink and our share of the social safety net grows. I do not wish for a strike but I will walk the line for throse who are forced to live out the legacy if men who are afraid to stand up for what is right. Todd

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