UPM Blandin Employees in Grand Rapids Continue Strike with Community Support
Workers from Grand Rapids’ UPM Blandin paper mill have now been on strike for a week over disputes regarding the mill’s two-tier economic and benefits system and what they say are insufficient wages.
“We’re on strike because we need something done with the two-tier system,” said UPM Blandin employee Dave Estey. “Some of these younger guys are coming here, they’re working the same jobs, they’re not getting the same benefits, they’re not getting the same vacation [time], they’re not getting the same 401(k).”
“The members directed us to give the employer a little better than two weeks to bargain a settlement or a tentative agreement or get a last best and final offer,” explained Teamsters Local 346 President Jeff Oveson. “They chose not to meet with us in that time and the members got frustrated and chose to go on strike.”
This rally has led several members of the Grand Rapids community to stand on the picket lines as a show of solidarity.
“People are rallying together, they’re giving food, they’re giving donations, they’re honking [their car horns], the energy is unbelievable,” said UPM Blandin employee Killim Block.
Not only are strikers seeing support from the community and the local Teamsters union, they’re also seeing support from unions across the state.
“Standing in solidarity, that’s just the foundation of what unionism is, especially with the Teamsters,” said Teamsters Local 320 President Erik Skoog. “We have multiple different locals around the state of Minnesota and around the country and for us to stand together united, this is just a homecoming, it’s a family get-together for us.”
With this show of community support, the picketers hope that this will lead to a faster negotiation process with UPM Blandin.
“These members know that they may have to be out here for a while to get the contract they’re looking for, they contact they deserve, but they’re prepared,” said Oveson.
UPM Blandin did not issue any new statements but said Thursday that at this time, the proposals from both sides are fundamentally different. They said they are hopeful they can reach an agreement when negotiations resume.