UPM Blandin Paper Co. and Teamsters Local 346 have reached a labor agreement, ending a monthlong strike in Grand Rapids, Minn.
The resulting three-year contract, which replaces a contract that expired July 1, covers the 166 hourly employees at the magazine-paper plant. It allows for a 4% pay increase for the first year of the contract and a 3% raise the other two years.
Teamsters members narrowly approved on Friday afternoon the deal reached late Thursday between union leaders and the company, said Local 346 president Jeff Oveson.
The final agreement addressed "some, but not all" concerns over the company's proposal to provide different levels of benefits and wages to workers, depending on whether they started before or after 2016, he said.
"We were able to get advancements both in health and welfare premium cost-shares for the two-tier folks, and some more paid-time-off benefits for them as well," he said. "So there were other things that were accomplished."
Oveson said the contract approval ends the strike. The workers are now shifted to "layoff" status until the company officially calls each member back to work.
While some technical rules about layoffs could potentially remain in place until Nov. 1, Oveson said he was "hopeful" to see all 166 workers called back to the factory. He noted that some workers had been offered employment by other firms during the strike.
Company officials, who could not be reached by phone Friday, issued a statement noting the end of the strike.
"Together we reached an agreement on the issues that are important to our employees and helps position our mill for the future," said UPM Blandin General Manager Scott Juidici. "We value our employees and look forward to their return to work. We're now focused on restarting operations in a safe and efficient manner."
Plant workers had been striking since July 15, with intermittent bargaining talks since then.
Oveson previously said the company had not been keeping up with inflation. "The employees want to see just a little bit of a better wage," he said in a recent interview. "And to not have a revolving door at the bottom and to help retain employees."
Now those issues appear to be resolved.
Blandin officials previously said in emails they were very interested in reaching an agreement and hoped they could work things out.
By Thursday evening, Blandin spokeswoman Marsha Miller in an email said that after resuming bargaining talks this week, that a tentative deal had been reached. With Friday's vote, that deal appears to be on firmer footing.
"The company is now focused on returning to work and restarting operations planning," said Miller in a Friday email.
"Blandin's order book has been affected by the short-notice strike," Miller said. "Customers have had to fulfill their requirements elsewhere to meet their paper needs. As such, we are preparing for a phased startup, which will be directly related to how our orderbook develops now that the strike has concluded."
The labor unrest in Grand Rapids comes after years of downsizing at the paper mill, known for making coated magazine paper and owned by a Finnish company. The plant once employed 800 workers.