Gulf States and union come to agreement

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 1, 2004

Jonathan McElvy/Editor&Publisher

DEMOPOLIS — After 11 months of negotiations, four union votes and nearly a year of city-wide apprehension, employees at Gulf States Paper Co. have ratified a new work contract.

Under the agreement — passed early Wednesday morning — more than 340 hourly members of the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical&Energy Workers Union will receive an immediate "productivity/loyalty bonus," according to Sam Johnson, vice president for manufacturing at the Demopolis mill.

The bonus isn’t the only perk for hourly employees at the mill. According to Emory Barnette, spokesman for PACE, union workers also received an immediate wage increase, which will be followed by pay raises again on Jan. 7, 2005, and each year following for the remainder of the five-year contract.

On Jan. 7, 2004, the work contract for union employees expired. On Wednesday, employees began working under a new contract that expires on Jan. 6, 2009.

A wage increase wasn’t the only sticking point during the 11-month negotiation process. It had become wide knowledge throughout Demopolis that union and company officials could not come to an agreement over employee retirement plans. Previously, Gulf States offered pension plans but, like many corporations around the nation, the company looked to move its employees into a 401(k) program.

Under the new contract, current union workers will have the option of continuing their pension plans or switching to an "enhanced" 401(k) retirement plan offered by Gulf States.

For more on the union vote, see tomorrow’s edition of The Times.