Mill Strike Under Way in Jay; 800 Rally in Augusta
JAY, Maine (AP) _ Twelve hundred International Paper Co. mill workers walked off their jobs Tuesday, while chanting, sign-carrying workers encircled the governor’s home in a solidarity rally in Augusta.
Statehouse security police said the noisy rally was the largest they had seen in at least 40 years. An estimated 800 workers carried signs with slogans such as, ″IP The Greedy Giant,″ and criticism of Gov. John R. McKernan Jr. for recent vetoes of labor-backed bills.
″There is no economic justification for the concessions demanded by International Paper,″ William Meserve, president of Local 14 of the United Paperworkers International Union, said at the union hall in Jay. He said the company is trying ″to squeeze the unions″ at all its mills nationwide.
Around 20 workers paraded outside the mill’s main gate, carrying signs saying, ″Happiness Is A Fair Contract,″ and ″The IP Squeeze.″
″Show some guts, take your load somewhere else,″ one woman yelled to the driver of a truck loaded with logs. ″This isn’t the only mill in Maine.″
The strikers last week rejected a contract offer that would trade one-time bonuses of up to $6,450 for givebacks on work rules and overtime pay.
Ray Hinckley, president of the Maine Labor Council of the UPIU, said the bonuses would fall far short of what workers would lose under the proposed contract.
Mill spokesman Joseph Pietroski said workers there earn an average of $13.55 an hour, which he called the highest manufacturing wage in the state. With overtime, workers earned an average of $37,000 last year, he said.
Pietroski said the mill, whose primary product is coated paper, falls below many other IP plants in terms of productivity.
″We’re seeing a mill that used to be the flagship. Now, it’s barely profitable,″ he said.
Meserve called that ″baloney.″ He added that some workers have 35 years experience, and ″There’s no way you can replace the knowledge they have.″
McKernan, Maine’s first Republican governor in 20 years, was out of town during the rally but returned later in the day to meet with Felix Jacques, Local 14 vice president. Jacques said after the hour-long meeting that the governor had offered sympathy but little support.
″He leaned toward the management side, saying there are two sides of the issue, and he does not want at this time to lean toward labor,″ Jacques said.
The governor said it was premature for the state to take an active role in the walkout, but urged both labor and management to keep negotiating.
Union locals at IP mills in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Alabama and Mississippi have decided to pool their ratification ballots with Maine’s, said UPIU president Wayne Glenn. Contracts will be settled only when accepted by a majority at the five plants. Negotiations will continue separately at each location.
Union workers have been on strike since June 8 at Nicolet Paper Co. in De Pere, Wis.; employees have been locked out for more than 10 weeks at an IP plant in Mobile, Ala., and a strike vote is set for Saturday in Lock Haven, Pa. UPIU members of four locals at an IP plant in Moss Point, Miss., are scheduled to vote on a contract in the coming week.
IP management in Maine has pledged to maintain production during the walkout, relying on salaried employees from IP plants in 26 states and a construction company hired to perform maintenance duties.