KapStone and Union Reached Impasse in Good Faith NLRB Confirms

According to a report this past week by The Daily News, Longview, Wash., USA, KapStone (Northbrook, Ill.) has won a key legal victory in its ongoing dispute with the pulp and paper union, and it will not be forced to return to the bargaining table, at least for now.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) agreed that KapStone acted in good faith when it declared a bargaining impasse with the mill workers’ union on Aug. 3, 2015. That’s when the company implemented its latest contract offer, even though the union had rejected it.

Separately, NLRB officials said this past Thursday that the union’s 12-day walkout in August and September was an economic strike — one meant to force the company into contract concessions — and not an unfair labor practice strike. NLRB’s stance means KapStone could have legally hired permanent replacement workers, although it allowed most workers to return to work once the union ended its walkout. It’s uncertain how much the NLRB’s findings may constrain the union in its attempt to press for more concessions. At the very least, though, it may remove the company’s incentive to bargain further and potentially solidify the stalemate.

The company declared an impasse after several months of failed talks, union strike authorization votes and worker rejection of several contract offers. The union contended that KapStone "illegally and prematurely" declared an impasse because some contract terms had yet to been bargained and several union requests for information had not been fulfilled.

Ronald Hooks, regional director of the NLRB office in Seattle, dismissed that charge, saying there was "substantial evidence" to support the fact that an impasse had been reached.

"Specifically, the investigation revealed that the parties bargained for 15 months, for a total of upwards of 20-30+ bargaining sessions, with very little movement occurring on either side on the key bargaining issues separating the parties over the weeks and months leading up to the employer’s declaration of impasse," Hooks wrote in a December. 24 dismissal letter to the union.

Although Hooks wrote that he has found merit in some of the union’s other alleged unfair labor practice charges, "none of these unfair labor practices were related to the core bargaining issues," and none of them caused the deadlock in contract talks. Hooks told The Daily News this past Thursday that the union would face "an uphill battle" if it continued to press the same issues that deadlocked the two sides on the first place. However, there’s nothing to stop the union to request a return to negotiations, he said. 
The two sides haven’t talked since workers rejected a KapStone offer for the fourth time two weeks ago. Company officials said this week that it was unfortunate that their January offer was rejected by members.

"The offer included a significant $2,200 lump-sum payment along with the other wage and benefits increases that the National Labor Relations Board recently ruled were legally implemented by the company last year following a bargaining impasse," KapStone officials said in a statement to the local newspaper.

"Irrespective of this ratification vote, the offer KapStone implemented in 2015 is very fair and competitive, particularly when compared with other contracts in our industry and our area," the company added.