Put Displaced Paper Makers Back to Work

Displaced workers, community members and fair trade advocates held a picket on April 24th demanding that WestRock — owners of the idled Newberg, Oregon paper mill — make the property available for sale to buyers who would restart the plant.

WestRock stopped production at the mill just weeks after buying it, putting hundreds of people out of work.  The global company with production facilities throughout the world is supposedly looking to sell the Oregon mill.  But in a bid to avoid competition, WestRock will reportedly not sell the plant to a buyer that will reopen it for production, requiring that “paper machines in the mill must be destroyed and not put back into use as a condition of sale,” according to a company memo.

“WestRock’s been buying up competitors’ mills only to shut them down.  They do this to drive down supply and therefore drive up prices for the product that they are producing [at other mills they own],” said Association of Western Pulp & Paper Workers (AWPPW) President Greg Pallesen.  “WestRock won’t sell the mill to any business that will re-open it as a paper mill. They’ve taken the extreme and job-killing step of setting up a sales agreement that contractually extracts from any buyer the promise not to restart the mill.”

Joining the picket of nearly 50 people were activists from the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign, who argued that trade policies that make it easier for corporations to relocate jobs around the globe to wherever workers are the most exploited and environmental regulations are the weakest have hurt the pulp and paper industry throughout the Pacific Northwest.

“Time and again the actions of transnational corporations show they’re not really interested in fair competition,” said the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign’s Russell Lum.  “They talk about ‘free trade,’ but what they really want is to rig the rules of the global economy so that their ability to profit comes ahead of working families, healthy communities and the environment.”