By STEVE LEIGH
Nearly 1200 workers are on strike against the Weyerhaeuser Corporation (also known as Weyco), headquartered in Seattle. They are loggers and sawmill workers in Washington and Oregon represented by the International Association of Machinists woodworker division (IAMAW).
The last contract expired in June but the company only came to the table in August, offering essentially a takeaway contract. Management wanted to charge for health care and dental care for the first time and refused to contribute to the pension plan. The wage increases offered were well less than inflation. The company also wanted to cut vacation. As one worker put it “We would have ended up behind.”
One striker said that they had a “take it or leave it” attitude from the start. Even after overwhelming rejection by the workers, management came back with virtually the same contract offer.
IAMAW member Jason Williams said: “The company has been making record profit. We went through a pandemic. We’ve been there strong with them and working with the company. Coming to this contract here, we thought, had high hopes that we’d at least get caught up with inflation and their proposal to us doesn’t even come close to it” (from The Stand, publication of the King County Labor Council).
The workers were clear they would not accept such a vicious attack; “80% of the workers voted and 97% voted to reject the contract and go on strike,” said one striker. The last strike the union had was in 1986, which people remember as very bitter. Strikers from 1986, now retired, have been active on the picket line this time. One striker said, “They are really rowdy!”
The strike started on Sept. 12 and has remained solid. All the unionized facilities are shut down tight. One worker described it as a lockout since the company padlocked the gates. The company has been in no rush to negotiate. Sept. 30 was only the third session, although the union has pushed for more.
Weyerhaeuser’s operations in the Northwest are very profitable, but the company is relying on facilities in Idaho, Michigan, Canada, and the U.S. South to ride out the strike. Weyerhaeuser has over 9000 employees across the U.S. “They want to starve us out,” said one worker.
The company is not crying poor. In fact, it claimed a net profit of $2.6 billion in 2021 and called it the best year on record. It distributed $2 billion to shareholders. The Weyerhaeuser family itself is worth $1.7 billion.
Weyerhaeuser owns over 12 million acres of land in the U.S. and manages 14 million acres in Canada. By some accounts it is the largest wood-products company in the U.S. The company could easily meet the workers’ demands and remain very profitable. Workers understand this. “All they care about is their stockholders,” said one.
The workers are not taking this attack lying down. Besides shutting all the unionized operations, they are regularly picketing corporate headquarters in Seattle. On Sept. 29, 75 supporters chanted, “Weyerhaeuser, you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side.”
Along with striking workers from several places in Oregon and Washington, picketers came from the Teamsters, Seattle Education Association, International Longshore and Warehouse Union, the King County Labor Council, the Poor Peoples Campaign, and several other groups. The strikers are quite happy about the support they have received. One said, “We are grateful for the labor support!”
The strikers are determined to win. They know they are in a tough fight but are confident. “We’re hurting them!” said one.
Every worker and labor supporter should support these workers! The issue is the right of workers to a decent life versus the corporation’s pursuit of profit. This fight is one more example of what is wrong with an economic system based on profit instead of human needs.
Here are ways people can support the strike:
1)Contribute to this GoFundMe fundraiser to support families of striking Weyerhaeuser workers who are experiencing hardship.
2) Please sign this petition to tell Weyerhaeuser: Timber workers and their families deserve living wages, good health care, and a secure retirement!
3) Join picket lines at Weyerhaeuser facilities and donate food/supplies at these locations. The union says, “Community support [on the strike lines] has been amazing” and “each location would appreciate you stopping by; hold a sign, talk with us, bring a treat or two, anything to show your support.”Photo
Photo: Rally outside the Weyerhaeuser corporate offices in Seattle. (KOMO News)
Steve Leigh is a member of Seattle Revolutionary Socialists and the Revolutionary Socialist Network.