Union rejects contract again

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 27, 2004

Union employees at Gulf States Paper Corp. “overwhelmingly” rejected a second contract offered by company management.

According to Emory Barnette, spokesman for the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers International Union, union employees have “overwhelmingly rejected the offer. Now, we’ll go back to the drawing board.”

At issue, according to Barnette, is Gulf State’s decision to freeze employee pensions.

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“You’re talking about people’s livelihood here,” he said. “They want to put employees on a savings plan.”

Employees, obviously, don’t want to lose a pension plan that Gulf States had set up for employees who retired with the company.

“What they want to offer now is just like a 401k plan,” Barnette said.

Dan Meissner, corporate spokesman for Gulf States, said he would not discuss specifics relating to the points of contention in the contract.

“We do not feel it’s appropriate to discuss specifics of a contract that is for the union membership,” Meissner said.

While a second round of voting is not considered the end of the negotiating process between union members and management, Barnette did not express the same sort of optimism Thursday that he expressed after the first contract was rejected on Jan. 8.

“This is getting more and more difficult,” said Barnette, who worked for nearly two decades at Gulf States. “But hope springs eternal.”

When union employees rejected the first contract offer, Barnette seemed confident a deal would be reached.

“We’ll go back to the negotiating table with them now, and we’re going to negotiate in good faith,” he said on Jan. 8. “In the end, I know we’ll reach a fair and equitable contract for both parties. And I expect that to happen.”

Meissner said Gulf States is committed to working through the negotiations process and hammering out a contract suitable for both parties.

“We are certainly disappointed that this second vote didn’t pass, but we remain committed to fashioning a new contract that will be acceptable to both management and the union,” he said.

Meissner said new negotiations would begin next week and would continue until a new contract can be submitted to employees.

Barnette said the pension issue must be addressed in the employee contract before another vote is taken.

“This work is done through a committee, and once we reach a point where we’ve made some progress, then we can take something back to the members,” he said.