UPDATE: Wednesday night a WestRock union representative told WRBL that a membership vote on the company’s latest contract proposal was rejected.
It’s the third time union membership has voted to reject an offer on the three month old lockout.
Union leader Bobby Waston tells WRBL the next steps is to go back to the negotiation table.
COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — More than 400 East Alabama paper mill workers are nearly three months into a work stoppage.
WestRock locked its three unions out of the Cottonton plant when contract talks stalled.
Since Monday, union members have been voting on the last best final offer from the company.
It’s the third time such a vote has been held since the lockout started. The previous two failed by large margins.
The results of the latest vote should be known later Wednesday night or early Thursday.
On Oct. 6, more than 480 paper mill employees were locked out by the company.
That lockout has continued into the new year. The last negotiating session between the three United Steelworker unions that represent the employees was held Dec. 16.
The union members have been voting this week on a company offer that was extended on that day.
“We have been bargaining back and forth and this is the third offer they have presented to the membership for a vote,” said Bobby Watson, president, Local 971. So, we are not there yet from a committee standpoint. So, we are not making a recommendation that the membership ratifies this agreement at this time. But we are letting their vote be heard through the process.”
Watson tells WRBL that the main sticking points are coming down to a few issues.
“The things that are holding us apart right now is our healthcare plan design, our work-life balance issue,” Watson said. “And the fact that our contract language with our return to work is very ambiguous. So there needs to be a lot of clarification around what that looks like.”
Another union leaders tells WRBL that the membership has stuck together over the last 90 days.
One union leader says the members have stood strong.
“We are really grateful, and humbled by how our membership has rallied behind us,” said Les Phillips, president, Local 1972 . At the end of the day, they understand that we are trying to fight for their time. That’s what has really kind of resonated amongst our membership. We really are trying to fight for their values, right?”
Watson said that one of the problems for the company is the high rate of overtime pay that is factored into the workers’ pay.
“Our members are used to working all the time – around the clock,” Watson said. “Our overtime in that mill right now is 40 percent. So, 40 percent of our salary comes from overtime, which is part of our work-life balance issue. It has been a struggle to convince the company to staff that mill properly.”
WRBL reached out to WestRock officials Wednesday and has not heard back from them.
Watson tells WRBL that the Union has filed 18 unfair labor practice complaints against the company. He says the company wants the union to drop those complaints.
There were 489 union members when the lockout began. Watson says more than 60 members have retired since the lockout began.