SKOWHEGAN — Dozens of people with signs lined up Tuesday along Route 201 near Sappi Fine Paper North America to support the pulp mill’s largest union as it works to secure what it describes as fairer employment contract.

United Steelworkers Local 9 is the largest of four unions at the mill, serving 475 workers. Members last week rejected the company’s most recent and final contract offer, with 96% opposed.

Pat Carleton, president of USW Local 9, said there are several things the union wants in a new contract, including higher wages, better health care options and better care for retired employees. The most recent contract expired in August.

Patrick Carleton, president of United Steelworkers Local 9, in front, stands with Sappi workers during a rally Tuesday near the Skowhegan mill. The union’s contract with the company expired in August and workers are pushing for a new contract with higher wages and better benefits. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Members of the union, along with representatives from the Maine AFL-CIO and others, rallied along the weigh station on Route 201, about a half-mile south of the mill, toting signs demanding fair contracts from one of the region’s largest employers.

Local 9 leaders say that members who retired after the contract expired in August missed out on some pension benefits, which the union hopes to resolve as part of a new agreement.

Although Carleton did not discuss details, he said wages and health care benefits offered by the company are not enough for members.


“Today is more of a solidarity effort, so we’re all on the same page,” Carleton said. “Things are changing in the world. There are a number of issues, but the health care, wages and the retiree piece is significant.”

Sappi North America said in a statement that it was “disappointed” that workers represented by the United Steelworkers chose to reject the company’s proposal.

Members of the United Steelworkers Local 9 join with others during a rally Tuesday near the Sappi paper mill in Skowhegan. The union’s contract with the company expired in August and workers are pushing for a new contract with higher wages and better benefits. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“Sappi’s proposal contains a number of significant improvements for our employees, including very competitive pay and benefits, an enhancement to the defined benefit pension plan, an extremely generous signing bonus and wage increases of 9% over the life of the contract, exceeding anything previously offered in our industry in recent years,” the company said.

A news release issued by the Maine AFL-CIO prior to the rally Tuesday said that though the overall cost of health care for the employer is going down, “Sappi is trying to force the workers to pay more out of their pockets.”

Members of Local 9 are scheduled to meet Wednesday with the company for additional talks.

“We don’t really know how the company will react,” said Mike Higgins, staff representative for United Steelworkers. “We’re hopeful and we’ll let this process play out. They want a concession on health care.”

Rally organizers said Tuesday’s event was an act of solidarity, not a picket or strike.

“As essential workers, we had to be at the mill every single day, working rampant overtime while salaried people stayed home and worked remotely,” Carleton said. “When my members were sent home with a COVID-19 exposure they got no money. I know other (similar industries) across the country have seen record wage increases to try to keep up with inflation.”

“All we’re asking is for a fair deal so that our pockets aren’t picked every negotiation and our members and their families can have a good life,” he said.

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