Weyerhaeuser workers end strike

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local
Weyerhaeuser employees returned to work Monday, Oct. 31, after being on strike for nearly seven weeks during contract negotiations.
More than 1,100 employees on the West Coast of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local Lodge W246 (IAM) halted production at two log export facilities, two log truck operations, seven logging camps and four sawmills from Sept. 13 to Oct. 27.
Lodge President Tom Thede said three of the significant issues centered around healthcare, a signing bonus and vacation.
For healthcare benefits, the previous two proposals rejected by the union included cost-sharing on employee premiums in which they would have to pay an increased percentage each year, Thede said. Rates can increase, so paying a percentage on premiums meant the cost to the employee would essentially be unknown from year to year.
“What we were able to do is get the company to lock in fixed rates for the term of the contract,” he said. “So rather than paying a percentage, we’re paying a set amount for the term of the contract and we were able to get it to not start until June 2023. We’re still not happy with the fact we’re paying them, but it’s better than the unknown cost we were looking at originally.”
One of the other changes the union fought for was an increase in the signing bonus, he said. Weyerhaeuser agreed to increase the amount by $1,000. Employees can opt to take the money in a lump sum or put it in their health savings account in four annual payments.
“If you plan on being here four years and using the healthcare, that’s the smartest thing to do because it’s basically tax-free if you put the money in your health savings account,” Thede said. “So that was a significant change there for the amount of people we had; it was a pretty good chunk of money from the company.”
Another obstacle for the union centered around an extra week of pay for long-term employees. When employees reach 20 years at the company, they get five weeks of vacation plus an extra 40 hours of pay. The company, Thede said, wanted to take that extra pay out of the contract for anybody that hadn’t reached that 20-year mark by next year.
“We were able to get them to back off from that, so that stays in play through the term of the contract,” he said.
The union also wanted higher wages, but Weyerhaeuser was adamant about going no higher than 14%, Thede said. The union agreed to increase wages 5.5% in the first year (retroactive to June 1, 2022), 3% in the second year, 3% in the third year and 2.5% in the fourth.
“I’ve been here a long time and I can’t remember ever getting that much of an increase, especially a 5% raise,” he said. “I don’t remember ever seeing that. People are looking at what the economy was. They see social security getting a 3.7% raise and they’re thinking we shoulda got more. We wanted more but we were just unable to get the company to move off of their wages.”
Employees voted on the last proposal last week, passing by a vote of 54% to 46%.
“So almost half the membership out there is very unhappy,” Thede said. “But I classify this a win, probably; it depends on how you look at it. I’m just gonna get my guys ready for four years from now, then hopefully we’ll be ready to fight again.”
Employees returned to work on Monday, Oct. 31, as a “soft opening,” he said. They wanted to go over safety, check on equipment that’s been out of operation for seven weeks, and see who’s returned because some employees have left for other jobs.
A local employee, Alan, who shared only his first name, said he believes they voted on pretty much the same contract they walked out for back in September, with the extra $1,000 ratification bonus being the only change.
“All of us definitely felt the support from the community, good and the bad from people honking or stopping in to talk with us or simply giving us the middle finger,” Alan said.
Weyerhaeuser issued a press release on its website in response to the stoppage of the strike.
“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,” said Devin W. Stockfish, president and chief executive officer for Weyerhaeuser. “Our people are what make Weyerhaeuser special, and we are committed to providing safe, reliable jobs with competitive wages and benefits that support our employees and their families. We believe this contract accomplishes those goals, and we are excited to welcome everyone back and resume normal operations as soon as possible.”
Founded in 1900, Weyerhaeuser, a Washington-based real-estate investment trust and one of the world’s largest private owners of timberlands, has about 130 locations in the U.S. and Canada, with 11 in Oregon, including Lebanon and Albany.
Weyerhaeuser reported $771 million net earnings in its first quarter of 2022 (a $90 million increase from a year prior), $788 million in its second quarter of 2022 (a $212 million decrease from a year prior), and $310 million in its third quarter this year (a $172 drop from last year’s third quarter).
Weyerhaeuser stock fell from $34.56 on Sept. 12 to a low of $27.75 on Sept. 29, and gradually increased to 31.01 on Oct. 27.