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KapStone’s millworkers will be back to the polls this week to decide whether to go on an unfair labor practice strike, even as company and union officials continue federal mediation.

Union members overwhelming approved of a measure in December that lends their bargaining board the power to call a strike if necessary. It’s been a month since Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers Local 153 provided the company with a 10-day strike notice.

This week’s vote is a precautionary measure to try demonstrating that the strike would be over unfair labor practices, rather than purely economic reasons. The distinction could determine whether or not the company can permanently replace workers who walk off the job. The vote will take place 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. today and Wednesday.

Under federal regulations, a unfair labor practice (ULP) strike is a protest to a specific employer action, whereas an economic strike is made to secure an economic benefit such as better pay or hours. Companies are allowed to hire permanent replacement workers under an economic strike, but are barred from doing so under an ULP strike.

The union points to a pending complaint with the National Labor Relations Board as the basis for a ULP strike. KapStone contests the complaint.

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At least three quarters of the workforce has already attended strike training. Additional training is scheduled for Thursday. Members are required to attend training to serve picket duty and receive benefits during a strike.

Local 153 and KapStone’s bargaining board were scheduled to meet with a federal mediator for the second time Monday. Union officials could not be reached for comment Monday and KapStone declined to comment.

Regardless, union officials said in a letter to members Friday that they “are hopeful that progress will be made at this meeting but we will continue to prepare for the worst and move forward as necessary.”

Local 153 and KapStone have been bargaining for a new contract for over a year. They are at odds over health care coverage, disability benefits, seniority rules and job transfer policies. Local 153 has not been on strike since 1978.

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Contact Daily News reporter Marissa Luck at 360-577-2539 or mluck@tdn.com.

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