Mill strikers hold the line

More than 1,100 sawmill workers, log truck drivers, and loggers are picketing Weyerhaeuser Corporation sawmills in Oregon and Washington, the first walkout to hit the giant lumber producer in 36 years.

After four weeks on the picket line, workers are feeling the impact — but union organizers say morale is high, despite the loss in wages. 

Mike Green is a union steward with Woodworkers Local 246 in Springfield. Green says the loss in wages has many Weyerhaeuser families struggling to put food on the table, some even taking other jobs to keep the lights on. 

“The strike is taking a toll on everyone,” Green said. “It’s starting to wear on people, but we’ve found out who’s behind us, and we’ve had so many community members show their support.” 

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents the workers on strike, said negotiations for a new bargaining agreement have been in the works since April. Sawmill workers, log yard scalers and equipment operators, mechanical loggers, truck drivers, and a host of maintenance, mechanical, and electrical workers have been working under an expired union contract since May 31, 2022.

An overwhelming number of employees reportedly rejected 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.

Competitive pay, reduction in vacation time, healthcare premiums and no improvement to retirement plans are among the issues on the table.

So far, the IAMAW has met with the company three times since the strike started.

At the latest meeting Friday, the company offered a new proposal union members will be reviewing next week, said Brandon Bryant, business representative for IAMAW District Lodge W24. There has been no decision yet on the proposal.

“Our members, Weyerhaeuser’s workers, deserve better,” Brandon Bryant said in a press release. “All workers deserve better. Corporations have seen outlandish increases in their bottom line and those increases are only made with the hands and feet of workers. All wealth is the product of labor (John Locke). We are asking that our labor be recognized for its role in making wealth for Weyerhaeuser.”

Bryant is the President and Business Agent of Woodworkers IAMAW District W24, representing Weyerhaeuser workers in Washington and Oregon with 14 contracts in locations from Aberdeen, Longview, and Raymond in Washington to Coos Bay, Springfield, and Cottage Grove in Oregon.

Bryant has repeatedly pointed out that the workers “worked through a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic as essential workers and came out of it to increase the company’s profits to new record territory.”

In a statement released Sept. 13, Weyerhaeuser reports generating $10.2 billion in net sales in 2021 – while union organizers claim wage increases fell short considering the record profit margin. In Weyerhaeuser’s last proposal, Bryant says general wage increases were too low, vacation time was cut, and healthcare costs increased.

“We wanted to come to an agreement that would reflect changes and improvements that need to happen in order to recruit and retain high-quality workers so that Weyerhaeuser can continue to make record profits,” Bryant said. “Those profits don’t happen unless the work happens, and the work only happens if our members do it. We are taking that work away from Weyerhaeuser in order for them to see us, see our value, see the actual people that make their profits.”

Though workers remain optimistic, Green says many may consider leaving Weyerhaeuser to provide for their families. 

“They are bleeding us dry,” Green said, “and really, it’s a waiting game. Corporate is trying to wait us out. But people have been dropping off groceries, they’ve been honking and waving – and it just shows how supportive the community is.” 

The Chronicle reached out to Weyerhaeuser for comment, but did not hear back by press time.