For the first time in 36 years, Weyerhaeuser employees in Oregon and Washington voted to strike last night, citing low wage increases and healthcare premiums.
Over 200 employees at the Weyerhaeuser plant in Cottage Grove joined the walkout.
Cottage Grove Mayor Jeff Gowing was on the picket line Tuesday morning. He’s worked for Weyerhaeuser for 34 years. “I’m on my way into retirement,” Gowing said. “But these guys, who have years ahead of them, need to be heard.”
Competitive pay, reduction in vacation time, healthcare premiums and no improvement to retirement plans are among the issues on the table. In a statement released this morning, Weyerhaeuser reports generating $10.2 billion in net sales in 2021 – while union organizers claim wage increases fell short considering the record profit margin.
“People don’t realize that the lumber we produce here helps build and rebuild homes. It’s our livelihood, it’s hard when you drive past McDonalds and see they are hiring for only five dollars less than a skilled laborer in the mill,” Mike Guevara, a laborer on strike said.
The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents more than 1100 Weyerhaeuser employees, said negotiations for a new bargaining agreement have been in the works since April. Even though the previous contract expired on May 31, the union said employees are continuing to work under that agreement until negotiations come to an end.
An overwhelming number of employees reportedly voted to reject the timber company’s offer on Aug. 19, with the union saying the proposal came “nowhere close to what our members wanted or deserved.” Union members passed the associated vote to strike soon after.
“All our members want is their fair share of the profits they earned for the company, keep up with the cost of living, and make the gains that a good employer should offer, in light of the success they have reaped off the labor of their employees,” IAMAW said in a release.
Additionally, the union says employees are expected to pay premiums for their high deductible healthcare plans for the first time in decades.
“This may seem like the norm out in the world today, but it is something that has not happened to our membership at Weyerhaeuser,”
Workers in Cottage Grove also cited that during the pandemic, they received no hazard pay.
“Everybody wanted to be safe, and everybody was fine with the new protocols. We came in, we worked, we did what we had to do to provide for our families. But when you hear on the news that Joe Schmo working at the department store is getting paid $1,200 a week because they get unemployment and COVID relief, while we’re showing up to work every day working 10 to 16 hours a day and all of that doesn’t even take home $1,200 a week – you get frustrated,” Guevara said.
Kevin Lane was instrumental in connecting the Grovers to the broader union movement. “This union isn’t just a few groups, or a small group of people making decisions on their behalf. It’s every one of its members speaking in one voice,” he said.
Lane said that negotiations are expected to continue on Friday, but union representatives would be, “willing and happy to,” talk as soon as possible.
In a statement released this morning, the Weyerhaeuser Company said, “We have been formally engaged in collective bargaining with IAM since May, and we have made several offers related to wages and benefits,” says Denise Merle, senior vice president and chief administration officer for Weyerhaeuser. “After we presented our final offer, IAM workers at multiple sites went on strike late last night. While we are very disappointed in their decision to walk out, we are committed to supporting our employees and negotiating in good faith with union representatives. We are prepared to continue discussions to produce a contract that is beneficial for employees and sustainable for the company across business cycles.”
The company says they will, “continue working closely with customers and other partners in the region to minimize supply disruptions.”