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U.S. senators call for Cascades to reach labor contract at Niagara Falls facility

NEW YORK (From news reports) -- New York's two U.S. senators are calling for the owner of Cascades Containerboard's Niagara Falls manufacturing facility to reach agreement on a first labor contract, more than two years after workers there voted to join a union.

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer wrote a joint letter to Mario Plourde, president and CEO of Quebec-based Cascades, saying "the contractual negotiations must be done in good faith in the effort to forge a fair contract and working conditions."

"The men and women of the (International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union) and Cascades Containerboard management, as well as customers, will only mutually benefit from a new labor agreement, and we urge both sides to come to a fair and equitable agreement as soon as possible," the senators wrote.

Officials with the machinists union, which represents over 100 workers at the Cascades plant on Packard Road, say they are frustrated with the lack of progress toward a first-time deal. Workers voted in favor of joining the machinists union in April 2019.

Ronald Warner, an official with Machinists District 65, said there has been "no progress in the negotiation deliberation in months."

Warner accused the company of dragging out talks to reach a first-time deal, in hopes that workers will lose interest or the union will be decertified. "Well, neither is happening here," he said. "The employees - our members - are all in for the fight for their careers, no matter how long it takes."

Warner said he hopes political support from the two senators will help get things moving. The union and its supporters staged a rally outside the facility in late May to draw attention to the lack of a deal.

Warner said the two sides met July 6, and are set to meet later this month and on two dates in August. "Since last March, the union continues to propose between eight and 10 dates each month and Cascades continually only agrees to one or two dates per month," he said.

Hugo D'Amours, a Cascades spokesman, said the company is "committed to negotiation to come to an agreement as soon as possible."

But D'Amours said it "always takes more time to reach an agreement on a first labor contract than to update or to modify an existing one."

The plant has also had to get through the pandemic and has faced "operational issues," he said. "This is not an excuse, but certainly, it probably slowed down discussion."

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has ordered Cascades Containerboard to change how the site handles sludge, in response to odor complaints from residents, business owners and state and local officials. The DEC also ordered the facility's operators to undertake a "full survey of its operations."

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