The union voted 92 percent to authorize a strike at Woodland Pulp. Workers could walk out as early as Dec. 19 if no deal is reached.
Woodland Pulp millworkers in Baileyville have voted to authorize a strike over a contract negotiation dispute. Credit: Courtesy of United Steelworkers Local 27

The union workers at the Baileyville mill have authorized a strike amid an impasse in contract negotiations with management.

The Woodland Pulp millworkers voted 92 percent to strike, with 85 percent of the 123 union members voting over Monday and Tuesday, according to the Maine AFL-CIO.

As a result of the vote, the union has given Woodland Pulp a 10 days’ notice of its intent to strike, meaning the workers could walk out as early as Dec. 19 if no deal is reached, the Maine AFL-CIO said Wednesday night.

The union has been operating under an extension of its last contract with Woodland Pulp, which expired in August. At the center of the impasse with management is the union’s demand for higher wages that reflect the growing cost of living.

“The wages and benefits we are requesting are not unreasonable and are necessary for us to keep up with inflation. If I felt that our demands were excessive, I would be the first to stand before the membership and say so,” United Steelworkers Local 27 President Shawn Howland said. “These negotiations have left us feeling unappreciated and unvalued, considering the hard work and resilience our members showed during COVID 19 pandemic. Our production numbers are at an all-time high, largely due to the efforts of the hourly employees here at Woodland.”

The union emphasized that the Baileyville mill never closed down during the pandemic, and that workers took time off with no pay when they or their families contracted COVID-19. That’s despite Woodland Pulp receiving a $6.7 million federal Paycheck Protection Program loan, which was forgiven.

“USW 27 members have sacrificed a lot during the past few years and the workers deserve to be compensated fairly for their hard work and dedication,” Howland said.

Mike Higgins, a USW labor representative, said he understands Woodland Pulp offered a “good general wage increase” that the union would have accepted in a normal year.

“But inflation is really eating into their paychecks and we know the company is adjusting its prices for inflation. Local 27 members just want to make sure they don’t fall behind,” Higgins said.

While the union has authorized a strike, it’s possible an agreement can be reached in the coming days to avert it. That’s what happened at the Sappi mill in Skowhegan earlier this year. USW Local 4-9 members voted 96 percent to strike in February amid an impasse during bargaining. With the strike looming, Sappi North America and union negotiators eventually hammered out a deal just ahead of the deadline before the strike could begin.