On Friday, the Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership was scheduled to give a “Manufacturing Excellence” award to Huhtamaki Inc. of Waterville. George Gervais, commissioner of economic development said the event was canceled because of “the unexpected announcement by Verso Paper in Bucksport” that it was shutting down its facility in December.

I don’t believe Gervais’s reason. I think the real reason this event was canceled is because Huhtamaki employees planned to greet Gervais, and any dignitaries attending the ceremony, on the sidewalk outside the plant with educational picket signs in their hands.

The employees at Huhtamaki who are represented by the United Steelworkers Union have been without a contract for more than two years. The company has insisted throughout the negotiations for a new contract that employees accept a health care plan that is grossly inferior to the one they have now. The proposed plan would present an extreme burden to the families of the employees who work hard every day to make the Huhtamaki business a success.

The company also insists that employees pay more for this inferior plan than they pay now for the decent plan, even though the company would pay less for the proposed health care plan than they pay for the current one.

This extreme concession is sought by Huhtamaki at a time when the Waterville plant has never been more successful. Because of its employees’ hard work, the company is making huge profits, is more productive than it has ever been and is servicing customers such as Chipotle, Costco, Starbucks and others in exemplary ways.

The company is not insisting on concessions because it must do so in order to survive. There is no bankruptcy looming on the horizon, there is no lack of profits and the company is doing extremely well. Its order book is full and it is adding machinery domestically to keep up with orders.


Instead, Huhtamaki is doing this because its officials believe they can get away with treating its employees with disrespect. They believe the employees will cower down and succumb to concessions even though the company has never done better.

The employees at Huhtamaki are two years past the expiration of our contract, and we have had no wage increases since 2011. Huhtamaki has made a substandard offer on wages for the future, but says even that substandard wage will not be paid retroactively to help make up for the two years without wage increases.

Apparently Gervais and the Maine Extension Partnership recognized how well the Waterville plant is doing, since they wanted to give Huhtamaki an award for manufacturing excellence.

We think that rewarding this company for its substandard treatment of its employees is irresponsible. Successful corporations do not employ ethics such as these, which are based in greed, seeking to take from employees when there is no earthly reason for it.

The company also insists that the new contract expire in the fall of 2015. The union proposed adding another year to the contract and have it expire in 2016, so that employees could get a little breather before having to negotiate all over again. Huhtamaki, however, rejected that proposal, and I believe there is only one reason: It wants to return to the bargaining table again next year and take another pound of flesh from its employees.

We don’t believe that Gervais needed to be in Bucksport on Friday. We believe that the event in Waterville was canceled because we made it known to the politicians who were invited to the ceremony that we would be there to educate the public about this stalemate.

The Bucksport announcement simply gave Gervais an excuse not to face the employees as he arrived to present this award to an employer that is mistreating its employees, who have enabled the great success of this company. Huhtamaki is ruining its longstanding allegiance to its employees.

We do not seek confrontation with Huhtamaki, but neither will we shrink from it or succumb to such misguided ethics on behalf of a tremendously successful enterprise, success that the employees themselves enabled. We hope Huhtamaki will now do the right thing when we return to the bargaining table on Oct. 13 and 14.

Duane Lugdon, of Bradley, is the United Steelworkers Union staff representative.

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