Seventeen warehouse and delivery workers at St. Paul-based Anchor Paper went on strike at 5 p.m. Tuesday after voting to reject the company’s final contract offer. The workers, represented by Teamsters Local 120, are maintaining a picket line outside the company’s warehouse at East 10th Street and Broadway, on the outskirts of downtown St. Paul.
Tom Ohlson, the Local 120 business agent who services the Anchor Paper bargaining unit, said his workers are taking a stand against the company’s attempt to stop contributing to their defined-benefit pension plan.
“The company is wanting to pull out of our pension,” Ohlson said. “They wanted to turn our health and welfare over into their own company’s health and welfare program.”
Workers with 25 years of experience at Anchor Paper would see their pension benefits slashed by up to 40 percent under the company’s proposal.
“It’s pretty dramatic,” Ohlson said. “They want to pull out of the pension, and they want our folks to pay for it.”
The Teamsters union has represented workers at Anchor Paper for 40 years. Negotiations on a new contract opened in late August, but the two sides have made little progress since then.
Ohlson said the company claims it can no longer afford to pay into workers’ pension fund – a claim Ohlson doesn’t buy.
“The company is claiming poverty, but they won’t let us look at the books,” he said. “If in fact they were in a poverty situation, it would be something we could go back and talk to the guys about. But it’s not a poverty situation.
“The owner does not want to bargain. We’re wiling and we want to sit down and bargain something that’s going to be acceptable for both sides. It’s quite shocking that it’s gotten to this point.”
Already, Anchor Paper has hired replacement workers from outside the company to cover the Teamsters’ work.
Ohlson said his members will stand together until the company presents them with a fair offer.
“This is a tight-knit group, with family members who have been here for quite some time,” Ohlson said. “It’s tough on them, but the Teamsters are going to be here. We’re going to fight right to the end.
Michael Moore edits The Union Advocate, the official publication of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation. Learn more at www.stpaulunions.org