Home News Local News 80% voted against Boise labor contract amendment
80% voted against Boise labor contract amendment
Boise Cascade Inland Region employees say they understand current economic realities and appreciate efforts management has made to keep mills going — but can’t afford to give up more wages and benefits with no guarantee of what the future holds.
Two weeks ago, workers from the La Grande sawmill and particleboard plant, the Elgin stud mill and plywood plant and the Kettle Falls, Wash., sawmill voted to reject an amendment to their labor contract proposed by Boise.
The amendment included deferral of wage increases and temporary reductions in vacation and paid holiday provisions. Employees from the three locals representing workers in La Grande, Elgin and Kettle Falls rejected it.Local 2851 of the Carpenters Industrial Council represents the La Grande sawmill and particleboard plant employees. President Todd Gorham said a major problem was a lack of an assurance that mills would stay open.
“There weren’t any guarantees that if we took those concessions we’d continue to run,” Gorham said.
Earlier, Steve Lyon, Boise’s human resources manager, said that if local union membership approved the proposed changes, the company’s chances of survival would be enhanced. But he also said the company could make no promises regarding the future.
Boise, historically Union County’s biggest private-sector employer, has been struggling with poor market conditions and log procurement problems for several years. As the nationwide recession has deepened, the company has laid off workers and cut back production.
The particleboard plant, which once employed 160 people, now employs about 70. The number of workers at the sawmill complex has dropped from 140 to 60-70. Since last September, at least 40 jobs have been cut at the facilities in Elgin.
Employees must work 100 hours per month to maintain their health insurance. Some are using vacation time to meet the requirement, while others have lost benefits, according to union reports.
At the same time, management has done what it can to see to it employees keep their insurance, said Marc Mitchell, Local 2851 vice president.
“Thirteen days a month is what it takes and management has been doing all it can to make sure people get that,” said Mitchell.
The union locals also report that some employees have taken pay cuts in order to keep working. Workers with years of seniority have been “bumped” into lower paying jobs.
“I’m a 20-year guy and I’m down to one of the lower jobs in the mill,” Mitchell said.
TOC Management Services, a Tigard-based employer advocate company, recently presented the proposed amendment to the collective bargaining agreement to the Carpenters Industrial Council.
The CIC represents employees at Boise’s Inland Region mills and other companies in the region. Two other companies in addition to Boise voted on the amendment.
The votes were counted April 17, with employees of all three companies rejecting the amendment. In Boise’s Inland Region, 80 percent of workers voted against it.
“We started taking curtailments in 2003 and they started getting longer and more frequent,” said Gorham. “It’s money you lose and don’t get back. People felt they made too many concessions. This (the vote) was something they could control.”
After the vote, Boise Human Resource Manager Steve Lyon said the workers’ decision gives the company “clarity” as it considers options for the future.
He did not specify what those options might be. Gorham said he has heard no talk about shutting down the mills in Union County.
Gorham said he understands that the wood products industry as a whole is undergoing tough times.
“The whole thing has been difficult, not just for us, but for everybody nationwide,” he said.
Mitchell added that he isn’t blaming management for the problems workers are dealing with.
“This isn’t an attack on Boise by any means,” said Mitchell. “They’re our friends, our neighbors, and they’re all doing what they can. We’re all in the same boat.”
He said he hopes the community understands the union’s reasons for rejecting the amendment.
“I hope they get a good understanding of what we’re going through,” he said.