About 1,200 Weyerhaeuser Co. employees in Washington and Oregon voted overwhelmingly Thursday to give the regional woodworkers union strike authority, paving the way for a work stoppage if negotiators continue to disagree on terms of a new labor contract.
The final ballot tally was more than 90 percent in favor of strike authority, said Wayne Thompson, district business representative of the International Aerospace and Machinists/Woodworkers Local District W24 Lodge.
The vote total included ballots from nearly 400 union sawmill and other workers in Longview-based Woodworkers Local 536. Workers from Coos Bay, Ore., to Aberdeen, Wash., also participated in the vote.
Union members also voted down the most recent version of a proposed contract by roughly the same margin, Thompson said Friday.
“I’ve never seen our crews this solid,” he said.
Thompson said negotiators are still working with Weyerhaeuser representatives to get back to the bargaining table.
“We are disappointed in this outcome, but optimistic that we can continue to work with union leaders to reach a mutually acceptable agreement,” Weyerhaeuser said Friday in a statement.
No date has been set for a strike, but no further contract talks are scheduled, Thompson said. (However, an official at Woodworkers Local 24 in the Raymond area said the union and company have scheduled talks on July 10-11, the Raymond, Wash.-based Willapa Harbor Herald reported late Friday afternoon.)
“It’s our intent to get back to the table to give the company an opportunity to improve their offer,” Thompson said.
The two sides have bargained for three months over health care, pension contributions, wages, vacation, logging commitment levels, and mandatory overtime at the mill.
Negotiators are at odds over Weyerhaeuser’s annual logging commitment levels — or the volume of trees the company will commit to harvesting per year using union logging crews.
The company initially proposed a 30 percent cut to its regional commitment levels, Thompson said.
“That’s a reduction in the workforce that we just can’t agree to at this point,” he said. “That’s our job security language.”
Weyerhaeuser has gradually scaled back its company-run logging crews over the past three decades in favor of independent contract loggers.
Thompson noted that the company’s exports to Japan, South Korea and China are substantially higher than a year ago, while operations in Western states account for the majority of the company’s profits.
Weyerhaeuser’s western export log revenue reached $129 million in the first quarter of 2018, compared to $106 million for the same period last year.
The company grossed $165 million in revenue from its western operations, compared to $98 million in southern states.
Weyerhaeuser reported first-quarter net profits of $275 million in April, up from $167 million during the same period last year — a 65 percent increase. Net sales were $1.9 billion, nearly $200 million more than the first quarter of 2017.
The company said a healthy national housing market and strong lumber prices drove solid demand for logs.
Total housing starts for the first quarter averaged 1.32 million units on a seasonally adjusted annual basis — the highest quarterly average since the second quarter of 2007.