Springfield

Timber strike ceases

It’s been 46 days since Weyerhaeuser’s union workers went on strike — and this week, after a long and challenging standoff, they’re back to work. 

It took more than 1,000 workers on the picket line, countless hours in the rain, and a series of tenuous union negotiations to reach a deal. 

Workers say the end of the strike is bittersweet, a mixed bag and a welcome reprieve from the month-long pay loss. 

“This has been a long journey and the end is not exactly everything the union wanted,” said Brandon Bryant, district business representative for International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. “But it is better and improved from where we were seven weeks ago.”

Weyerhaeuser, one of the world’s largest forest and forest products companies, owns nearly 12.4 million acres of timberland in the U.S., manages an additional 14 million acres in Canada and makes wood products. In Cottage Grove, the Weyerhaeuser mill is one of the largest employers in the area. 

BOB WILLIAMS / THE CHRONICLE

Last week, members of Woodworkers Local 246, part of the International Association of Machinists, narrowly voted to approve a new contract that included wage increases and benefits.

While the approved contract does not cover all the changes workers were hoping for, improvements like lower healthcare premiums and increased wages of 14% were secured.

“It feels good that we pulled together to face this,” said Kevin Lane, who was instrumental in connecting Cottage Grove to the broader union movement. “So there’s mixed feelings, we didn’t get everything we wanted in the contract. But we did get a little bit of pride.” 

Bryant said 85% of members voted for the contract that gives a 14% wage increase, no increase to healthcare premiums and improved vacation time and payout for sick leave.

Workers will also receive $750 a year to an individual Health Savings Account or a $3,000 lump sum bonus, he added.

Weyerhaeuser president and CEO Devin W. Stockfish announced the end of the strike in a news release Friday, saying he thinks it allows the company to provide “safe, reliable jobs with competitive wages and benefits.”

“We know this has been a difficult process for everyone involved, and we have appreciated the patience and professionalism of all parties as we worked through the negotiation,” Stockfish said.  

Lane appreciated the support of community members, including those who contributed to GoFundMe pages to help picketers stay afloat. “The community support was absolutely overwhelming and overwhelmingly positive,” he said. “I cannot thank the communities of Cottage Grove, Springfield and Eugene enough.” 

Union members urged the company to eliminate a new out-of-pocket health insurance requirement. The company did not remove the premiums, but they are set at a locked-in amount that will not increase over the four years, said Joe Bethke, longtime millwright and electrician. 

The final contract also includes additional vacation time, higher payout for sick leave, and higher pay for those working outside normal business hours.

While the final contract is “not the greatest,” according to Bethke, he said he was satisfied with it. He said he still doesn’t think it reflects the profit workers helped the company achieve in recent years.

“It’s not horrible, but our biggest thing is not to not get something that shows what we gave them,” he said. “That’s the hard part. They made billions of dollars, literally billions and billions of dollars off our backs, and then weren’t happy about giving that back.” 

In 2021, Weyerhaeuser had its strongest financial year on record, according to Stockfish in a January news release, bringing in $2.6 billion in net earnings over the year.

The Cottage Grove mill will ease back into normal operations this week, with maintenance workers getting the mill ready and safety training Monday and production crews coming back Tuesday, Bethke said.

“It was tough,” Bethke said. “A lot of people suffered and struggled. But, I’ll say this, Weyerhaeuser has always pushed us to be a team. And what we told them is you couldn’t have picked a better team building experience than this. We’re closer as union members. We’re closer than we ever were.” 

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