When Simpson Lumber Company put its sawmilling operations up for sale in December 2014 and put IAM members at risk, quick action by District W24 representatives helped save jobs and provide substantial benefits for those who were displaced.
In mid-January 2015, Simpson notified District W24 that Interfor, Corp. LLC, a Canadian-owned forest products manufacturer, had purchased several of the Simpson mills and would close the sale on March 1st.
The sale impacted two IAM-represented mills Washington state, Local W157’s Commencement Bay Operations in Tacoma and Longview and Local W536’s Longview Lumber Operations in Longview, WA. Simpson notified IAM bargaining unit employees that Interfor was going to require employment applications and interviews to continue working in the mills.
District W24 Business Representatives Brandon Bryant and Wayne Thompson, assigned to negotiate closure language with Simpson, succeeded in gaining severance benefits for any members not rehired by Interfor. When Interfor announced those hired and those denied employment, 36 Brothers and Sisters were left without work. Employees not hired by Interfor were placed on Paid Leave until the closure date of February 28th.
Thompson had filed for a Trade Act Certification two years prior for both locations during a market-related layoff. The Trade Act provides retraining benefits, including up to two years of no-cost retraining and two years of extended full unemployment benefits as well as relocation assistance, mileage, books, tools and in some cases living stipends.
The Trade Act Adjustment (TAA) Benefits were still available, but they expired on February 25th. This created a problem: TAA Benefits are only available to Unemployment Eligible Employees. Simpson had processed payroll through the 28th and it looked like none of the displaced workers would qualify. But Thompson and WA State Labor Council-AFL-CIO Displaced Worker Representative Bill Messenger immediately went into action. They contacted State Legislators, Simpson Management and State Employment Security Managers to develop a solution.
Thompson and Messenger quickly found a solution that was acceptable to the Trade Act Administrator for Washington Employment Security and obtained the needed Certificates. In meetings held at each location, they were able to get certification of eligibility determinations for the 30 members who attended.
Interfor has recognized the Union at both locations and Thompson and Bryant are entering negotiations for an initial collective bargaining agreement.
“Congratulations to District W24 for their innovative actions to protect our members’ jobs at the former Simpson mills and get extra assistance for those displaced by the sale,” said Western Territory General Vice President Gary Allen. “Their actions demonstrate the foundation of Unionism “caring for another” in this era of plants being traded among global companies with little regard for the workers in them.”