McKernan Criticized as IP Mill Strike Gets Under Way
JAY, Maine (AP) _ Gov. John R. McKernan Jr., meeting with a union official on the first day of a strike by 1,200 International Paper Co. mill workers, urged labor and management to keep negotiating.
″Only open lines of communications can ensure that this strike is resolved without violence, without damage and without coercion or intimidation,″ McKernan said after the meeting Tuesday in Augusta.
Earlier, an estimated 800 sign-carrying workers paraded outside the governor’s home in the state capital in a rally that Statehouse police said was the largest in at least 40 years.
McKernan said it would be premature for the state to take an active role in the strike at International Paper’s Androscoggin Mill here. The walkout began at 7 a.m. Tuesday.
The governor met for an hour with Felix Jacques, vice president of Local 14 of the United Paperworkers International.
″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.
McKernan, Maine’s first Republican governor in 20 years, was also criticized at the rally, held to support the strike and protest the governor’s recent vetoes of labor-backed bills.
″McKernan has shown labor his colors and they aren’t very friendly,″ Ray Hinckley, president of the United Paperworkers’ Maine Labor Council, said to cheers.
The demonstrators booed state AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Edward Gorham, who said McKernan is not anti-labor. The governor was out of town during the rally but returned later for the meeting with Jacques.
Last week, International Paper workers overwhelmingly rejected the company’s contract proposal offering one-time bonuses of up to $6,450 in exchange for givebacks on work rules and overtime pay.
″There is no economic justification for the concessions demanded by International Paper,″ said Local 14 president William Meserve.
Management has pledged to maintain production during the walkout, relying on salaried employees from International Paper plants in 26 states and a construction company hired to do maintenance.
Mill spokesman Joseph Pietroski said workers there earn an average of $13.55 an hour, which he called the highest manufacturing wage in Maine. 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 International Paper plants in productivity. ″We’re seeing a mill that used to be the flagship. Now, it’s barely profitable,″ he said.
Meserve called that ″baloney,″ but said it may become true if the company hires inexperienced help to replace strikers, some with 35 years’ experience.