Paper Workers Set Goals

Unite Participates in USW Paper Conference

About 500 delegates from United Steelworkers (USW) local unions around the country attended the National Paper Sector Policy conference July 10-12, 2012 in Pittsburgh to set bargaining and policy goals, objectives and action plans for the next two years. They also elected members to the national paper policy committee.

They were joined by Unite local union officials (chapels) from Kimberley Clark, Georgia Pacific and SCA along with Unite National Officer Ian Tonks.

During the conference, delegates met in their respective company councils to determine their key objectives and actions and at Kimberley Clark, SCA and GP  they were joined by their Unite counterparts. This information, which included mandatory and primary goals to confront challenges and trends in the industry, is the foundation of the Paper Sector Policy that was unanimously adopted at the conference as its blue print for action for the next two years.

"We are proud of the work of our members in the paper sector. They have made a generation of progress in the seven short years since the merger, despite a very difficult economy," said USW International President Leo W. Gerard. "The unity, activism and hard work of our members have led to stability in the industry, and equally important has ensured that our members' jobs remain some of the best manufacturing jobs in America!"

Health and safety initiatives, driven by ongoing fatalities and life-altering incidents in the industry, were a central focus of the conference. All members attended a workshop on safety, and they heard Local 274 leaders tell what happened on Memorial Day this year when an explosion killed one worker and severely injured four others.

"Despite the fact that the industry has invested millions in programs that seem to reduce the number of injuries reported, the overall rate of fatalities and life-altering injuries appears to remain unchanged over decades," said USW International Vice President Jon Geenen, who heads the union's paper sector. "That is why we must focus on strengthening these efforts by engagement and innovation at all levels in every company."

In the council discussions members shared problems they had with management actions. Their solutions to improve the workplace were reflected in the policy items.

"Our policy agenda comes directly from our rank-and-file members' input and reflects goals that support decent labor agreements and, equally important, strengthen the industry," Geenen said. "It serves as a template for action for the next two years.

"Many paper companies we deal with have come to appreciate the public policy work done by our union and the more efficient bargaining process that has resulted from our policy conferences," Geenen said.
The USW holds the National Paper Sector Policy conference every two years. Since the last conference the union has built more bargaining power.

"I'm incredibly proud that since the last conference our represented locals have been very disciplined in bargaining," Geenen said. "We're definitely making progress in creating a better workplace and industry."

The union represents 100,000 paper workers in the U.S at companies ranging from International Paper to Sappi. Unite has 50,000 members in their Graphical Paper & Media Sector representing members in papermaking, tissue, packaging, printing, newspapers and the media.

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