Aug 21, 2023

Blandin mill workers ratify contract, end strike

GRAND RAPIDS — Union paper mill workers ratified a new three-year contract Friday, bringing an end to a 26-day strike.

Teamsters Local 346, which represents UPM Blandin’s 166 hourly employees, voted Friday to ratify the new contract, the company said in a news release.

Jeff Oveson, president of Teamsters Local 346, said in an email that progress was made on "health and welfare premium cost and paid time off disparities."

According to the company, the new contract includes year-over-year increases to wages and shift differentials as well as “benefit enhancements” to paid time off and health savings account contributions. The union had previously said the main sticking points in contract negotiations were wages, a two-tier wage and benefit system for newer employees, and supervisors performing union work.

"Together we reached an agreement on the issues that are important to our employees and helps position our mill for the future," UPM Blandin General Manager Scott Juidici said in the release. "We value our employees and look forward to their return to work. We’re now focused on restarting operations in a safe and efficient manner.”


The previous contract expired June 30, and the union started its strike July 15, prompting the mill to shut down temporarily.

Marsha Miller, a spokesperson for the mill, said in an email that a “phased startup” will be dictated by returning demand.

“Blandin’s orderbook has been affected by the short-notice strike,” Miller said. “Customers have had to fulfill their requirements elsewhere to meet their paper needs. As such, we are preparing for a phased startup which will be directly related to how our orderbook develops after the strike concludes.”

The Blandin mill employs approximately 230 people and can produce up to 230,000 metric tons of coated magazine papers per year, according to the mill’s website.

Two decades ago, the Blandin mill employed 800 workers on four machines that manufactured paper. But as demand waned, the company closed two machines in 2003, laying off 300 people. Another 150 people were laid off in 2017 when another machine closed.

Today, just one machine at the mill remains.

The mill is a major employer in the area and is a significant part of the local tax base.

The Blandin mill was built in 1901, and in 1977 it was sold to Fletcher Challenge Canada. UPM, based in Helsinki, Finland, bought Blandin Paper Co. in 1997.


This story was updated at 4:20 p.m. Aug. 11 with a response from Jeff Oveson. It was originally posted at 3:21 p.m. Aug. 11.