Deal coincides with change of ownership

LA GRANDE - About 640 members of the Western Council of Industrial Workers agreed to a four-year contract just as Boise announced it was getting out of the forest products industry.

Bruce Cartmel, Boise's northeast Oregon regional manager announced on July 26 a $3.7 billion deal with Boise Cascade LLC that would divest the company of its forest products, paper and timberland assets.

"It couldn't get any better for us," said Local 2780 President Mike Garver of Elgin, "It looks like the new company wants to stay in the wood business.

Mike Moran, President of Local 2851, covering the La Grande sawmill and Island City particle board plant, said health care was a core issue for workers and their families.

"We're pretty pleased. We keep our health care fully funded, right where it needs to be," Moran said.

Garver said that increased costs for medical coverage have been assumed by Boise.

According to Moran, the new contract is an industry standard that affects unionized mill workers in Oregon, Idaho and Washington.

Weyerhauser, Roseburg Lumber and Georgia Pacific, also with contracts that ran out June 1, have all agreed to the same contract with WCIW, he said.

Locals 2851, 2780 and 2910 ratified the Boise offer on Friday, July 23. Local 2780 covers workers at the Elgin plywood and stud mills, Local 2910 covers log yard workers in both Elgin and La Grande.

Boise Cascade LLC, a company newly formed by the Chicago investment firm, Madison Dearborn Partners, is expected to take over Boise operations in the La Grande, Island City and Elgin mills by November 2004.

In lieu of a wage increase in the first year of the contract, all covered workers will be awarded a sign-in bonus of $1,000.

Wages are to increase by 25 cents an hour in the second year, and by 27.5 cents an hour for the third and fourth years.

Garver said the increases would be the same for all hourly workers.

Workers' retirement benefits will increase by $2 a month for the first year of the contract and $1 a month in subsequent years.

Overall, Garver said, company retirement contributions will increase from $35 to $40 per month for every year of service over the length of the contract.

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