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Clearwater Paper Lewiston union negotiations on hold

LEWISTON, Idaho (From news reports) -- Two unions representing employees at Clearwater Paper are readying for unspecified "next steps" after contract negotiations recently stalled.

Representatives of United Steelworkers locals 712 and 608 met with Clearwater Paper officials Wednesday and Friday last week without getting any closer to a resolution, according to a joint union statement posted online.

"To the dismay of your bargaining committee, the company came to the table with no new proposals," according to the statement. "As a result, we are in communication with the international union to prep for the next steps."

The statement doesn't explain what those steps could be. Attempts Tuesday to reach leaders of locals 712 and 608 were not successful.

"In order for the unions to commence a strike, the unions would need to provide a 10-day written notice of its intent to terminate the contract," Clearwater Paper spokeswoman Shannon Myers said in an email. "We have received no such notice and expect to resume bargaining."

The two sides are expected to resume negotiations in late summer at a date that hasn't yet been set, Myers said.

The unions represent employees at the Lewiston plant who make pulp and paperboard for packaging and paper dishes, as well as tissue for toilet paper, paper napkins, facial tissue and paper towels.

"We do intend to continue to service our customers and (are) prepared to do so," Myers said, of the Lewiston plant's operations.

The unions and Clearwater Paper have different positions on compensation and medical benefits.

Clearwater Paper proposed that new hires receive a high-deductible, catastrophic health care plan and "lesser" wages than existing employees, according to the union statement.

"If the company divides us (new vs. old workers) those of us currently employed WILL in a few years end up with the lesser package the company wants the new hires to receive," according to the statement.

Myers acknowledged Clearwater Paper proposed changes to medical coverage to address the rising cost of health care. The company suggested the new plan apply only to new hires after the unions rejected any changes to the existing medical plan, she said.

"At the last (meetings), the parties discussed their current positions on health care and possible alternatives, but neither the unions nor the company made a new proposal on health care," Myers said.

The talks between Clearwater Paper and union leaders have been going on for months. But they didn't become public until union members protested near the company's Lewiston site in April. The rally did not interrupt operations at the plant.

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