Since January of this year, UPM employees have been striking to bring about new collective labor agreements in association with the Paperworkers’ Union, calling for improvements to working conditions and salary.
Employees of Finland-based UPM have been on strike since the beginning of January. The strike that was to last less than a month has now been extended to its fourth month, till 30 April 2022. Paperlito, the papermill workers union made the announcement of the latest extension on 4 April, saying that the strike will continue till the last day of April unless agreements between the union and five UPM entities are reached earlier. The five UPM entities are UPM Pulp, UPM Biofuels, UPM Communication Papers, UPM Specialty Papers, and UPM Raflatac.
The Paperlito union has called for improvements in working conditions and pay. Commentators have said there is little progress in the negotiations. Nevertheless, the conciliator of negotiations between UPM Pulp and Paperlito has produced a settlement proposal, for both parties to review and make a decision by 14 April 2022.
The other four UPM entities are still negotiating with the union and the view is that if UPM Pulp and the union accept the agreement on 14 April, the rest of the proposals will soon follow and the strike will end. On the other hand, if no agreement is reached it may be a while before the UPM paper mills return to production in Finland. Meanwhile, UPM is supplying some paper and pulp to its customers from its other mills in Europe.
The unions side of the story
Three IndustriALL Global Union affiliates, Paperliitto (Paper Union), Teollisuusliitto (Industrial Union) and Proliitto (Pro Union) are affected. Work has stopped at all UPM sites in Finland. 2,200 workers at all UPM business units are on strike, with dockers and railway workers showing solidarity by refusing to handle the company’s goods.
The dispute arose after UPM left the industry-wide bargaining that had been in place for decades and refused to sign a single collective agreement with Paperliitto, which represents the majority of its workforce. The company wants separate agreements for each of its five business units.
The company wants to recategorize the 500 white-collar workers represented by Proliitto as managerial staff to exclude them from collective bargaining, and Proliitto shop stewards will no longer be recognized. The company has also stopped the check off system for collecting union dues, which had been in place since the 1970s. The collective agreement the company has with Teollisuusliitto is still valid, but Teollisuusliitto supports the demand for a uniform agreement on working conditions.
In addition to undermining collective bargaining, the company wants to dramatically increase working hours without an increase in pay, resulting in an effective pay cut of 20 to 30% for many workers. According to the unions, they believe that UPM deliberately provoked the strike hoping to break the unions.