Over 1,100 US timber workers on strike

by | Sep 16, 2022

Hundreds of Weyerhaeuser employees, one of the nation’s largest timber companies, began a massive strike early Tuesday morning in Washington and Oregon as the union representing them negotiates a new contract.

The Weyerhaeuser locations on strike include Aberdeen, Longview, Raymond, Coos Bay, Springfield and Cottage Grove with all workers represented by the union, International Association of Machinist and Aerospace (IAM) Workers. Workers on strike said their union contracts have normally been renewed successfully with the company every four years, but in the latest contract proposal, the company is not doing enough to compensate workers in the current economy.

The new contract proposed that workers would have to start paying a healthcare premium without any improvements in coverage, without improved retirement or increased pay rates to match the higher costs of living.

IAM union president, Kelly Zink, said this is the first strike of Weyerhaeuser workers since 1986 after “The contract proposal was voted down almost unanimously, and the same thing with the strike vote, almost unanimously in favor.”

Dana Werth, a lubrication technician at the Weyerhaeuser mill in Cottage Grove said that employees feel disrespected as essential workers who worked through the pandemic and had increased workloads with added logs taken on during the Holiday Farm Fire in 2020.

“It is frustrating because we do good work, make good products and made it a money-making mill for years, but then we are not appreciated for our knowledge and how much we put on our backs for them,” Werth said while standing with 15 other workers next to the mill. “We are not even close to the cost of living right now.”

With 2021 seeing the timber company’s strongest financial year on record, bringing in $2.6 billion in net earnings over the year, workers held signs reading “Record profits should not equal pay and benefit cuts,” and “Essential then, non-essential now”. These record takings were due to the hard work and diligence of Weyerhaeuser’s employees working extra hours beginning as early as 4 am and even arriving onsite at midnight.

Maintenance Supervisor at the Longview sawmill, Rick Davis said, “We have a really hard time employing any staff, getting any staff to even show up for interviews and we had openings for millwrights, electricians, and production people. We have had multiple employees leave to go right across the street literally for higher wages.”

Mr Davis says that lumber from the Longview sawmill exports timber as far as Asia and supplies big box hardware stores up and down the West Coast of the states, but all exports will be halted until a new agreement is reached impacting timber supplies and demand even more in the current tumultuous climate.

“We will be here until they want to come back to the table and offer a substantial wage increase and a benefits package,” Davis said.

Sixty-one-year-old truck driver, Rick Farris said he thinks it is “the worst contract they have ever offered” in the years he has been with Weyerhaeuser, “they keep taking our medical away.”

Following the contract proposal, Senior Vice President Denise Merle said in a statement that the Seattle-based company is disappointed in the workers’ decision to walk out.

“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.” Merle said.

At this stage, it is unclear where negotiations stand, nor how long the strike will last.