Teamsters strike Minnesota paper mill

By Edwin Fruit
August 7, 2023

GRAND RAPIDS, Minn. — Teamsters Local 346 members and supporters rallied and picketed outside the UPM Blandin paper mill here July 21.

The 180 union members went on strike July 15 over a divisive two-tier system for wages and benefits, and forced overtime.

The mill is a leading producer of lightweight coated magazine and catalog printing papers. At one time it employed over 800 workers, now there are around 200.

Zak Radzak, the local’s secretary-treasurer, told the Militant there has been a lot of community support for the strike. Union members came to the rally from the Minnesota Teachers Association, county and school workers from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, and other Teamsters locals.

Teamsters from Local 120 in Blaine, near Minneapolis, drove the three-hour trip in their union truck to help supply lunch for the rally.

Several Teamsters UPS drivers went to get hot dogs and burgers for the rally, and the store said it would kick in.

Richard Troumbly, 22, has worked at the plant for a year. He works four 12-hour shifts and is supposed to get four days off after that. “Because I am a newer worker, I never get those four days off. They always call me in for overtime. And if someone on your following shift calls in sick, then you have to work an extra four hours. That’s 16 total for your shift. That isn’t safe when you’re running a machine.

“We also pay 20% of health care costs while longer-term workers pay only 10%,” because of the two-tier setup, he said. “And we get less company contributions for our 401(k) retirement plans.”

“We made a big mistake in 2016 when we agreed to the two-tier system. The company promised to keep lines running and not close the plant if we did this,” Bill Schepers said. “Several months after the contract was ratified, they closed down one of the lines anyway. Now the young guys outnumber the older ones and they get the shaft. We need to fight for everyone.”

Tom Erickson, president of Teamsters Local 120, told the rally it was donating $10,000 to the Local 346 strike fund. Local 120 is one of three unions working to organize Delta Air Line workers in their union drive at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.