International Paper Co. breaks a union

The strike by union paper makers at the International Paper mill in Jay, Maine in 1987 was the toughest and strangest strike I ever covered. There had been a long history of fairly good relations between the company and the union, and IP profits were way up around that time, so it was difficult to understand why  the company took such a hard stand against the union, demanding wage and benefit give-backs and then locking out the union once they went on strike. Once the union members were locked out, the company  replaced them with non-union workers. In 1988, the strike ended and the union was gone.

By ARTHUR FREDERICK

JAY, Maine (UPI) – Union paper workers walked off their jobs at International Paper Co. Tuesday after refusing to accept a new contract offer which contained a number of concessions.

Several hundred members of Local 14, United Paperworkers International Union, immediately set up picket lines outside the mill gates. Others drove to Augusta where they were joined by union members from other Maine companies outside the Blaine House, the governor’s residence.

The crowds were orderly, and there were no injuries or arrests reported.

“Someone drove a skidder through fence at the mill late Monday, and took down 30 or 40 feet of fence, but today there really hasn’t been anything going on,” said Police Chief Erland Farrington.

International Paper Co. mill, Rumford Falls PIC

The International Paper mill in Jay, Maine in its early years, around 1910

The mill management had vowed to keep the mill open and operating, but all paper machines had to be shut down because of a number of incidents overnight at the plant. Mill officials said power was shut off during the night, and a number of machines in the mill were damaged.

Joseph Pietrosky, an IP spokesman, said the mill managed to get one paper machine operating by noon.  Other machines were still not operating, he said.

“Only one machine is running, and for most of the evening no machine was operating,” Pietrosky said. “A damper was closed in the plant, causing pressure to build up in the boilers, requiring that boilers be shut down. And we had a chlorine car tampered with during the night, causing liquid chlorine to escape into the air, a very serious situation.”

Pietrosky also said someone had used a sharp object to damage a paper machine wire.

“That will cost $80,000 to replace, and it will take more than eight hours to take it off the machine and replace it,” he said. “All told, we had a very disappointing evening, with a number of incidents that had the potentiality of creating unsafe conditions as well as interfering with normal operations.’

About 1,000 workers and supporters picketed outside the Blaine House, chanting slogans and cheering when passing drivers would blow their horns.  The demonstrators walked around the block in front of the Blaine House driveway, next to where Gov. John McKernan has been installing a new tennis court.

Later, the workers crammed into the State House Hall of Flags for a rally.

A delegation of workers met with McKernan, and other workers milled around in the halls, describing their positions to legislators.

In Washington, the UPIU announced it will switch to company-wide negotiations with International Paper, and use a publicity campaign against its demands.

“Unions must learn new ways to fight in this country,” said Paperworkers President Wayne Glenn, who said International Paper unfairly is seeking concessions at a time when it is prospering. “We’re going to attack on all fronts.”

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