COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — The unions representing about 400 East Alabama papermill workers voted Tuesday to accept the company’s latest contract offer.

West Rock union workers have been locked out of the Cottonton mill since early October.

This was not a strike. It was a lockout by WestRock of the union employees after months of haggling over a new contract.

A new contract offer was approved by the three unions in a vote that concluded on Tuesday, a union leader confirms to WRBL.

WestRock union workers have been on the picket line since Oct. 6th.

That’s 117 days out of work.

Local 971 president Bobby Watson tells WRBL the contract that WestRock workers ratified Tuesday includes:

— A dollar-fifty hourly raise across the board.

— A $7,500 dollar one-time bonus.

— An additional 1 percent into an employee’s 401(k) account.

It is the fourth time union workers have voted on a company contract offer during the lockout.

Watson says the company will begin reaching out to union members and determining when they will return to work. It will likely be sometime in February.

Here’s what Watson said about the deal.

“The labor dispute started over the company wanting to eliminate premium pay for the Marht employees,” Watson said. “Basically, every day that you work on Sunday, they give you time and a half because it’s Sunday. So, the company’s argument was that it was outdated language. The industry has done away with it. So, they wanted to do away with it at our facility. So, the argument was that was very important to our families and our communities. And we did not want to give that up. This deal basically keeps us whole for that Sunday premium even though that language will no longer be in our contract. The economic package basically is WestRock keeping their commitment to our families and our communities and their workers that they will retain that benefit even though it’s no longer written in our contract.”

The three unions represented 465 employees when the lockout began. About 65 have since retired. Others have found new jobs. Watson estimates that about 340 will return to work.

A statement from WestRock:
“WestRock and the local USW unions representing our Mahrt Mill team members reached a new collective bargaining agreement late last week, which the unions voted to ratify on Tuesday, January 31, 2023.
WestRock appreciates the diligence of the local USW unions to ratify the agreement. We look forward to our team members safely returning to the mill to resume their employment soon.”