Sappi Workers Stage Labor Rally at Company's Boston HQ
May 8, 2006 (Press Release) - More than 200 United Steelworkers (USW) union members from Maine and their supporters rallied in front of Sappi Fine Paper's North American headquarters today demanding justice in collective bargaining talks with the company. Sappi security personnel refused entry to Sappi workers who were delivering signed petitions to North American CEO Ronee Hagen from the company's employees at its five US locations.
Busloads of workers from Sappi's Westbrook and Skowhegan, Maine, plants—which are currently facing difficult negotiations with the company—led the union support rally. Local and regional labor leaders, as well as a South African labor leader who represents Sappi paper plant workers, addressed the noontime crowd.
"We're seeking fair labor agreements at all of Sappi's locations," said USW International Vice President Dick LaCosse. "Sappi must stop trying to pit plant against plant, and workers in one country against those in another. We're here to say that company tactic isn't going to work anymore. Union workers at Sappi are sticking together from now on. We all need good-paying jobs with decent retirement and health care benefits in each of our communities."
Sappi workers have been working under the terms of expired labor agreements for several years in some cases. At the Maine mills, workers have been working under an expired agreement for almost four and three years, respectively. The Muskegon, Mich., mill has been without an agreement since June 2005. The Cloquet, Minn., facility's agreement ends this year on May 15.
Against a backdrop of signs with messages like "Securing our Job, Our Future, Our Community" and "Offer Not Acceptable," USW District 4 Director Bill Pienta told the crowd that Sappi is playing not only with the lives of its employees and their families, but their towns as well.
"Every time Sappi breaks its promise to retirees that they'll have health insurance, it's ensuring that there will be less money flowing into the community. The same is true with the company's proposal to shift more of the health care burden onto their employees," Pienta said.
"We must have an agreement at each Sappi location that guarantees the company's future investment in Westbrook, Skowhegan, Muskegon and Cloquet," LaCosse said. "Investment in these Sappi mills will help them remain competitive. We're also trying to get the company to move away from its proposal for two-tier benefit programs, because they only hurt the younger workers coming onboard."
Representatives and members of the Greater Boston Central Labor Council, Massachusetts AFL-CIO and Massachusetts Jobs with Justice gave their support to the Sappi workers.
"Sappi Paper is another, in a long line of corporations, seeking to destroy middle-class living standards and the American Dream," said Rich Rogers, executive secretary-treasurer of the Greater Boston Labor Council. "The Greater Boston Labor Council stands in solidarity with the Steelworkers from Sappi in their struggle against corporate greed."
Workers in South Africa have also been having problems with Sappi. Pasco Dyani, national president of the CEPPWAWU union that represents Sappi workers in South Africa, told the assembled crowd how his union struck the company in 2005 over its alleged failure to promote black workers into senior positions.
"Sappi apparently was employing or promoting only white people in senior positions within the company," Dyani said. "In response to our strike, the company gave our members final warnings, and is in the process of taking disciplinary action against all the shop stewards.
"It's a disgrace that an international company like Sappi is determined to destroy the voice of workers because of their fight against racism. At CEPPWAWU, we've struggled against apartheid and won. This time we'll win again," Dyani said.
The USW is the largest industrial union in North America with 850,000 members, and represents workers in industries ranging from health care to steel, oil and paper. The union represents 1,500 workers at Sappi's five North American facilities. All of the company's facilities throughout the world are unionized.