USW Urges Cooperation in Sale at Snowflake Paper Mill

"The USW has begun its efforts, but there are not yet any promising options. We will be persistent on behalf of the paper workers in Snowflake and Taylor." —Bob LaVenture, Director of USW District 12.

Oct. 1, 2012 (Press Release) - The United Steelworkers (USW) Local 2688 'Union Committee to Re-open Snowflake Paper' issued a statement [Sept. 27] over the Oct. 5 shutdown, urging Catalyst Paper Co. to cooperate with its workers in seeking a buyer for the facility.

USW Local 2688 President Mike Popovich, representing the 200 production workers who are losing their jobs at Snowflake paper, has urged the owners of the facility to utilize the court-approved sale process to search for potential buyers that will want to run the mill. The sale of the paper plant will play out over the next several months.

"It's very early in the sale process Catalyst has laid out," Popovich said. "There is time for the company to work with its employees and the communities to find a buyer that is committed to making paper in Snowflake." Popovich announced a newly-named 'Union Committee to Re-open Snowflake Paper,' explaining he is confident that alternative paper products can be made by the mill.

"There is still a strong domestic market for paper products including brown bag paper, corrugating medium and linerboard that are viable only if the infrastructure is retained for the paper machines," Popovich said. "We seek a public commitment from Catalyst Paper to do so."

According to the USW committee that negotiated a Sept. 20 agreement addressing the effects of the shutdown, about 65 USW-represented workers at the Snowflake paper mill will be eligible to retire. A benefit package will be distributed to all of the union members that has severance pay for years of service, plus pay for unused vacation and earned holidays. Health care benefits will be provided by the company until the end of the month from when an employee is terminated.

The agreement also addresses recall rights, plus retention and incentive pay for new hires with less than one-year of seniority. In addition, existing successorship protections for the USW in connection with a potential sale were preserved.

Popovich said the final day of work for the majority of maintenance and production workers at the paper mill is Oct. 5, but there is a small group of maintenance employees that are scheduled to do wind down work until Jan. 31, 2013. Production for large contract orders will run until late night shift on Sept. 30.

He said 100 salaried workers at Snowflake paper will also be affected by the mill shutdown.

USW Local 2688 executive board member James Scott, who is typical of the workforce, has 21 years employment at the Snowflake mill. "My father worked under each of the three previous owners and my son had submitted an employment application in mid-summer, just before the company announced the closure on Jul. 30."

He said, "The union can be an effective and aggressive advocate for finding a new employer who can value our skilled workforce, otherwise all of our young will leave the area." Scott adds that the paper mill has gone through prior ownership changes that recognized the resilience of the workforce and community.

"We can't create jobs and prosperity without meeting the challenges of increased rail and power costs." Scott explains, "The unfair collection of old newsprint bales subsidized by our citizen taxes are now scooped up by China, instead of being kept here as a resource critical to sustain our jobs and profits."

According to Bob LaVenture, director for the eleven-state USW District 12 that represents the Arizona paper mill, the union has engaged a financial consultant to reach out to paper companies and other investors in order to encourage these parties to pursue an acquisition that will sustain the family-supportive and skilled jobs at the mill.

LaVenture said, "The USW has begun its efforts, but there are not yet any promising options. We will be persistent on behalf of the paper workers in Snowflake and Taylor." He appealed for the full support of Navajo County public authorities, business and community leaders to find a way forward for both retention and future development of meaningful industrial jobs in the area.

The eight-member Local 2688 negotiating committee made the announcement of the Union Committee to Re-Open Snowflake Paper after reaching a final agreement for terms of the labor shutdown severance package of benefits that will continue until Mar. 1, 2014. The union committee includes: Mike Popovich, president; James Scott, vice president; Steve Prestwich, treasurer; Mike Mariscal, recording secretary; and standing committee members Jason Webb, Patty Czernics, James Heisler and Robert Threlkeld.

The Snowflake facility is located in the foothills of the White Mountains in northeastern Arizona. The sale includes the equipment and other assets associated with the paper mill, approximately 19,000 acres of land, and The Apache Railway Company.

SOURCE: United Steelworkers (USW)

See related story:
- Catalyst Starts Sale Process of Its Paper Mill in Snowflake, Arizona (9/18/2012)