...from the Hall
News of the Union, Local 237
November 8, 1998
The Nature of this Newsletter
This newsletter is put together by me, President Chuck Whitt (and those who elect to contribute). The content, while addressing the concerns of the union (from a personal perspective) does not represent an official position of Local 237. Prior consultation was neither sought nor desired this is my way of communicating my thoughts to those who want to know them (maybe even those who dont J ).
Distribution of this newsletter, now and in the future, will only be through the web page Ive put together (address at the top), another personal effort of mine to communicate with the members.
The 1998 Contract
September first brought in a new labor agreement that was negotiated by the committees of Locals 237 and 586 and approved by 55% of the voting membership. The highlights of the contract are: a 5 year agreement with wage adjustments of 2%, 2½%, 2¼%, 3%, and 3%; pension increases of $5 the first year, $4 the third year, and $1 in the fourth year; and minor benefit increases in other areas of the contract (A&S, 401(k), shoes, etc.).
Some of the language changes and memorandums of agreement dealt with everything from scheduling of relief tour foremen to seniority issues to scheduling vacations. Probably most significant, in light of recent actions in the mill, was the change to the substance abuse policy. (For a complete list of changes, see the 1998 Contract on the website listed below.)
The fact that the contract only passed by 55% is not lost on me (or the committee for that matter). There was a lot of anger at the contract presentation, largely focused on the wage adjustments that were rolled into the negotiations based on new language in the 1992 contract. Hopefully the Company learned the importance of this issue and will deal fairly with wage adjustments in the grievance procedure rather than letting them go to negotiations and possibly interfere with the next contract.
I can honestly say that I do believe we got the best that we could have gotten short of going on strike (and even then I don't believe we could have gotten much more). Its unfortunate, but we really got caught short by negotiating in the face of the economic crisis brought to us from the Asian market collapse. I suppose we could have gone with a shorter contract, two or three years, but some of what we did get was based on our willingness to settle for more years. And given that we believed that our mandate was to improve pensions, going with five years allowed us to do just that (increasing pension $10 over the term of the contract). This is a great benefit to those who put in lots of years at the mill only to see many of those years frozen at $22/month with the sale of the mill by Champion. Those workers deserved (and finally got) better.
Also on the ballot, but a separate vote, was a Company proposal for direct deposit. This failed by a substantial margin, largely on the Company's insistence that everyone had to participate. While many like the idea of direct deposit of their paychecks, no one liked the inflexible plan put forward by the Company. I really don't understand their thinking either - I know of no other companies that don't give their employees an option. But such is the way of STK. Oh well.
Put in the perspective of other mills agreements, our contract hasnt looked too bad since negotiations. And in fact, it's beginning to look much better by comparison as time goes on.
Cant We All Just Get Along?
I don't know what it is, but it seems that since the contract negotiations were settled that we're at each other's throats more often. Maybe it's the dissatisfaction with the contract, or the wage adjustments rolled into the agreement. Maybe it's anger at the Company in their cost containment effort redirected toward fellow employees. Maybe it's just that I was so involved in other things that I didn't notice the angst.
Whatever's happening, it has to stop. The way relations are going with the Company, all we're going to have left is ourselves to depend upon.
This means that we need to stop the bickering, stop going to the Company with personal agendas, stop leaving notes pointed toward other individuals, and start being a little more tolerant.
Most members do live and let live, acting in a professional matter and fostering a friendly work environment. It's the few that don't that can create big problems (witness the drug dog issue for how misbehavior by a few can have an intrusive effect upon the rest of us).
Are you angry? Is an adverse reaction to that anger going to make things better? Probably not. So count to ten, take a deep breath, do whatever it takes to maintain a professional manner. It'll make life better for all of us.
I have no experience in conflict resolution, and really would rather not have to gain such experience. I firmly believe we have a mature work force that can maintain their composure without intervention. But if you do have some suggestions on how we (collectively) can help, please take the time to share them with me. It wouldn't hurt. Thanks, CW
Going to the Dogs
November 6, 1998 marked a new chapter in the history of the Simpson Tacoma Kraft mill. On that day, the Company brought in Canine Detection Services of California to search the mill for drugs, alcohol, and firearms. This certainly marks a new low in employee relations, and is probably indicative of what our future holds. Its unfortunate that we got to this point, but in light of the purported discovery of drug residue in the pulp machine, its not surprising.
One of the issues discussed in contract negotiations this year was the mills Substance Abuse Policy. The Company and the Union agreed that post-accident testing and facility searches (with prior consultation) would be amended to the current policy. The agreement was part of the contract proposal approved by the membership.
After some "marijuana resin" was discovered in a trashcan in the pulp machine room (an area frequented by many), the Company proposed testing of all that departments employees. After I discussed the issue with the machine room personnel, it was agreed that testing would do little to get drugs out of the mill, but go a long way in letting the Company intrude into peoples private lives. It was suggested by the machine room personnel that maybe this was an area where an unannounced facility inspection would do more to keep drugs out of the workplace.
Locals 237 and 586, as well as the UPIU international rep Al Lippincott, then met with the Company to discuss a protocol for conducting such an inspection utilizing drug sniffing dogs. The subjects discussed were how such an inspection would take place, the parameters of the inspection, and what would be done if drugs or alcohol were discovered.
The inspection would be done by examining bags, lockers, and vehicles, as well as other areas of the mill using specially trained dogs. If the dogs "alerted" to the presence of drugs or alcohol, the suspected area would then be searched - employees would be told to open their lockers, bags, lunch pails or vehicles as necessary to accomplish the search.
If drugs or alcohol were found in an area under an employees control, that would constitute reasonable cause under our long standing policy and require the employee to submit to a drug test to eliminate the possibility that the substance was "planted" or left by someone else. Its at this point that subsequent actions would diverge based on where the substance was discovered.
If the substance were discovered in the employees vehicle, and the employee tested positive for that substance, that employee would, at the minimum, be required to go through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and enter into a re-entry agreement to keep his or her job. Discipline would involve anything between a warning and suspension. The severity of the punishment would be based on an observation of the employees physical condition prior to being sent for the drug test. If the employee showed signs of intoxication, that would naturally escalate the discipline. The Company said they were not interested in discharging an employee if they could be treated. There are obvious exceptions to this, one being a substantial (salable) amount of drugs. (And in that case, the police would be called in, more than likely resulting in the employees arrest.)
If the substance were discovered in the employees locker, lunch tote, or work area, and the employee tested positive for that substance, that employee would more than likely get some time off, as well as be required to attend the EAP. If the employee appeared intoxicated, indicating use on the job, that employee would likely be discharged (fired). Again, a substantial quantity (indicating drug dealing) would result in the police being called and certain termination of their employment.
As with any policy, these are intended as guidelines rather than hard and fast rules. Subjective criteria, such as the employees work history, would be taken into consideration when meting out discipline. The contractual grievance procedure would also be there to insure complete evaluation of the facts in any case presented.Which brings us to Friday, November 6, 1998.
Wallace Simms, Jim Crosby (President of Local 586), and myself were working graveyard that night. Each of us had a note on our cards to see Jim Burg in the morning, with no further explanation. In the morning we met Burg in his office along with Lenn Richter (being covered for his day shift) where we were told about the impending search. We adjourned to the main conference trailer where other salaried employees had begun to gather, as well as some stewards for the Trades unions.
Shortly after 8am the dogs arrived. Three dogs were led into the trailer by their handlers, followed by the "evidence specialists" that would conduct the searches. The dogs (two were lab mix and the other a golden retriever) showed obvious signs of excitement. The owner of the service, Steve Johnson, introduced the dogs, their handlers, and the searchers. He then proceeded to tell us what the dogs would search for, which included narcotics, alcohol, and to my surprise, firearms! This was supposed to be a drug and alcohol search, negotiated under a substance abuse policy! I objected to this unwarranted expansion of the search parameters to Jim Burg, telling him that Local 237 would not support this, this is not what we negotiated. He said the search would continue anyway. Local 237 had no choice at this time, we had to accompany the dogs to endure the integrity of the search. But I was damn pissed at this groundless expansion of the negotiated parameters and will explore other avenues of protest. The priority now was protecting the members from a Company with no integrity. So off we went.
[As an aside, looking back on my notes of the 10-26-98 meeting where the policy was negotiated, Jim Burg is quoted as saying "We will not be searching for firearms, but if we find them in the course of our search for drugs, we will have to deal with that." That was in response to a question by me whether the dog search would include firearms. His answer then was acceptable. Now this. Is it any wonder we cant trust the managers of this company?]
The dogs split up into teams, one team going to the Papermill, another to maintenance, and the one I accompanied, to the pulp mill.
[Ill note at this time that the Company had locked down the mill like a prison, posting sentries in the parking lot and at the entrances to the locker rooms to keep people out till the areas were searched.]
We began by running the dog, Ben (black lab mix) through the offices by the time alley. He searched through each office and the foremans locker room (pausing to drink out of the toilet). The dog alerted in Randy Sousleys office, presumably due to the kiln shotgun shells he had under his desk, though the dog couldnt positively identify the source. He also alerted on a drawer in the foremans office and on a tour foremans bag, each of which were searched. He failed to alert on the bottles of wine in DJs office (an obvious violation of mill policy, at least for us peons), even though we were told they could smell alcohol through sealed containers.
After going through the lower offices, the dog moved on to the pulp machine room and from there he then proceeded through the rest of the pulp mill. The dog alerted on various lockers and other areas, but subsequent searches turned up no contraband. While in the machine room, I was told that another dog had turned up some drugs in paper shipping and that the employee who owned that locker was being sent to the clinic for a drug test. I then proceeded to intercept the employee to ascertain if he was intoxicated (no, he did not appear to be) and talked with him briefly before he went off to the clinic.
The dogs continued to make their way through the mill, alerting on lockers here and there. The Company continued to cut off locks (in violation of their own policy, I might add) when the owner of the locker could not be secured to open the lock. But still, nothing was found. And this is the way it went through the rest of the mill.
I finally left at around noon when the teams broke for lunch, leaving the remainder of the search supervision in the very capable hands of Lenn Richter. (Lenn did a stupendous job for the members here, documenting the actions thoroughly!) He later told me that only one other member was found with drugs, and those were found in a vehicle in the parking lot. Seems like a lot of trouble for the Company to go through for nothing. I hope now they realize that the drug problem in not as bad as theyve portrayed. And I hope they got their seven thousand dollars worth!
Theres much more to this story I'm sure, but having the graveyard blues and leaving before the completion, Im not the one to fully relate the remainder. Lenn has said hell brief the membership at the next union meeting and Im sure hell do so to everyones satisfaction. When I find out more, Ill be glad to share it with you. If you have any questions, comments, or information that we dont have, feel free to contact me in any way thats best for you.
Lenn did tell me that one of the handlers mentioned that this was one of the most drug free mills that they had ever serviced and that the employees were amongst the most cooperative and best behaved theyve seen. That speaks volumes about the integrity of our side of the table, particularly in such an adverse environment. Hearty thanks for a great job needs to go out to the day workers and A-shift for their professionalism. Thanks!
In solidarity, Chuck Whitt
Nominations were taken at the October 12th and 26th union meeting for officer elections, which will be held on December 14th in the time alley and at the union hall.
Nominations for the 1999 officers are (listed in order of nomination):
Please be sure to vote December 14th!
©1998, Chuck Whitt
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