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Mediation among union, Gulf States will continue

After an initial meeting that began the mediation process between Gulf States Paper Corp. and union employees, a spokesman said not much has changed in the status of negotiations.

Dan Meissner, spokesman for Gulf States, confirmed that the two sides had an initial meeting last week, though neither side had much of a philosophical change.

“Both sides had an opportunity to begin talking,” Meissner said.

According to Meissner, no future meeting has been set for company and union officials to meet, though he feels confident there will be more discussions between the two sides.

“It’s really in the hands of the mediator now,” he said. “He’ll be the one who schedules the meetings.”

The on-going dispute between Gulf States and members of the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers Union began earlier this year when union employees rejected the company’s proposed work contract.

On Jan. 7, 2004, a five-year contract between union employees and Gulf States expired. Employees voted Jan. 8 to reject the new contract offer from Gulf States because of changes in retirement opportunities with the company.

Company officials presented another proposed contract in February, which union employees, for a second time, rejected on Feb. 26.

On May 13, union members voted for the third time on a new contract, and after that vote failed, Meissner said Gulf States had made its “best and final offer.”

The greatest dispute between employees and company officials is Gulf State’s decision to eliminate pension plans and replace them with expanded 401(k) options.

Members of management at the Demopolis plant have long since lost pensions in exchange for a 401(k) plan, but union employees have refused to accept the same compensation package.

The mediation process that began one week ago is being facilitated by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service — a group funded by the federal government.

FMCS handles thousands of mediations each year, and in the case of the Gulf States employee contract dispute, FMCS will serve to assist company and union officials in their discussion.