Dozens of woodworkers picketed outside the Weyerhaeuser Co. gate at the intersection of Industrial Way and Washington Way in Cowlitz County on the first day of the union's strike Tuesday morning — the first for the group since 1986.
The group was one of several along Industrial Way and local Weyerhaeuser tree farms, and are included in the more the 1,100 workers represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Woodworkers District Lodge W24. The union voted to authorize a strike on Sept. 2 due to what they say are low wages and benefits during the company's self-described record-breaking earnings.
Brandon Bryant, the IAMAW district business representative, said the latest contract was voted down because general wage increases were too low; some vacation time was cut; employees were asked to pay for healthcare premiums for the first time since at least around the 1990s; and retirement benefits weren’t improved.
Denise Merle, senior vice president and chief administration officer for Weyerhaeuser, said in a statement Tuesday afternoon negotiations will continue.
"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," he said. "We are prepared to continue discussions to produce a contract that is beneficial for employees and sustainable for the company across business cycles."
Bill Jones, 57, said he has worked in the Weyerhaeuser lumber shipping department in Longview for 28 years. Instead of clocking in for his usual 5 a.m. shift Tuesday, Jones stood on a concrete traffic island with roughly 20 fellow workers, holding signs indicating they were on strike. One sign, held by a worker across the street, read "Make Weyerhaeuser great again."
Some workers joined the strike when it started 12:01 a.m.
Some sat in lawn chairs around 9 a.m., while Cookin' Country blared from a nearby radio and passing drivers intermittently honked in support.
The group has no plans to leave.
"We're going to strike as long as it takes to bring this to a closure that benefits everybody," Jones said.
He has two children in high school, and said Weyerhaeuser wages don't match the rising cost of living or recent inflation.
"In the last 15 to 18 years, the wages just haven't kept up and the medical just gets worse and worse," Jones said. "It's simple math."
About 350 Longview employees are represented locally by the Woodworkers Local 536 union under the umbrella of the IAMAW. Employees in Aberdeen and Raymond in Washington and Coos Bay, Springfield and Cottage Grove in Oregon are also included in the IAMAW.
Weyerhaeuser also said in a press release the company will work with customers and other regional partners to minimize supply disruptions.