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KapStone Declares Impasse; Will Implement Contract Unilaterally, Union Says

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A report earlier this week by the Daily News, Longview, Wash., USA, said that KapStone officials Monday declared a bargaining impasse and told pulp and paper union officials they will implement most of the company’s latest contract offer by Friday, according to the union.

A union leader called the move "a huge mistake" as word of the company’s move spread among union members who were staging rallies around the community Monday.

KapStone declined to comment on the negotiations or reveal which parts of the latest contract it intends to put into force.

KapStone officials made the announcement during scheduled bargaining talks Monday with Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers Local 153. The two sides have been negotiating, sometimes with assistance from a federal mediator, since spring 2014. The previous contract expired that May.

Despite twice authorizing a strike, and three times rejecting company contract offers, the union has so far declined to walk out for the first time since 1978.

Greg Pallesen, VP of AWPPW, called the company’s move "a huge mistake," but he declined to say whether or when Local 153 would go on strike.

"We might strike now or we might wait," Pallesen said.

Under an impasse, an employer can implement a lockout at any time and employees could call a strike at any time.

Local 153 held a rally Monday afternoon outside of the Cowlitz Expo Center, where the negotiations were held, in addition to a rally earlier in the afternoon in front of the Longview mill.

"We don’t think we’re legally at an impasse," said John Minor, who serves on Local 153’s bargaining board. He added that the union will challenge the impasse with the National Labor Relations Board.
Employers can declare an impasse and implement the last offer presented to the union if "good faith" bargaining fails to produce an agreement, according to the NLRB.

"However, the union may disagree that true impasse has been reached and file a charge of an unfair labor practice for failure to bargain in good faith. The NLRB would determine whether true impasse was reached based on the history of negotiations and the understandings of both parties," according to the NLRB website.

If the agency finds that impasse was not reached, the employer will be asked to return to the bargaining table. In an extreme case, the NLRB may seek a federal court order to force the employer to bargain, according to the agency.

The company’s last offer would provide 2% raises annually over six years (13% over the life of the contract). KapStone’s attempt to cut costs with a higher deductible health care plan has proven a major sticking point.

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