SEATTLE (From news reports) -- Striking union members from across Washington gathered to picket outside Weyerhaeuser corporate headquarters in Seattle's Pioneer Square neighborhood Tuesday morning.
The Washington-based company is one of the biggest timberland and wood manufacturing companies in the U.S.
Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) union have been on strike since Sept. 12. The union is calling for better wages to keep up with inflation, maintaining current vacation days, and better health care and retirement benefits.
Weyerhaeuser has about 1,200 union members, which includes employees in the company's Wood Products and Timberlands organization.
The union said workers "overwhelmingly voted down" the company's contract proposal on Sept. 2. Union members went on strike Sept. 12 after they said the company's final offer had improvements but came "nowhere close to what our members wanted or deserve."
Weyerhaeuser lists four locations in Washington and Oregon on its website as major production hubs. The strike is having an impact at all four of those locations.
"After we presented our final offer, IAM workers at multiple sites went on strike late last night," Denise Merle, senior vice president and chief administration officer for the company, said in a prepared statement on Sept. 13. "While we are very disappointed in their decision to walk out, we are committed to supporting our employees and negotiating in good faith with union representatives. We are prepared to continue discussions to produce a contract that is beneficial for employees and sustainable for the company across business cycles."
According to a letter from the union, negotiations with Weyerhaeuser began in April for a new collective bargaining agreement that expired May 31.
Union members said the company made record profits, and they want their fair share.
"Our members just want to have that share, and what they've offered us is not anywhere close to that," said District 324 IAMAW President Brandon Bryant. "They're asking us to pay for our premiums for health care, that's a cut. We've never paid premiums for health care in 20, 30 years, and so they're asking for cuts in economy after they've made the money they made. We just want a fair contract."
This is the first time Weyerhaeuser workers have gone on strike since 1986.
The company issued the following statement:
"We respect the right of our union member employees to picket as part of our ongoing contract negotiation with the IAM union, and we are committed to negotiating in good faith to produce a contract that is both beneficial for employees and sustainable for the company across business cycles. Our goal is to make sure we can continue to pay competitive wages and benefits to our employees and keep our operations safely running, even in the toughest economic conditions.
We believe our last offer is very competitive, and we fundamentally disagree with how it has been portrayed to the public. The core of what we are offering includes competitive hourly wage increases over four years, no cuts to vacation schedules, and in fact improved vacation schedules for employees with fewer than 12 years of service. Retirement benefits remain fully intact (including pension benefits for eligible employees). We are also asking that our IAM member employees begin contributing to their healthcare plan premium, as all our other U.S. employees do. We have offered to pay 97 percent of the healthcare premium, with employees responsible for only 3 percent to start. This amounts to about $17 per month for single employees and about $46 per month for employees with families. We believe this is more than fair, and the breadth and quality of coverage available through our healthcare plan remains unchanged.
We know how important these jobs are to our employees, their families and everyone in the communities where we operate. We look forward to reaching a successful resolution to this negotiation and returning to normal operations as soon as possible."