Posted at: 11/28/2012 8:52 PM
Updated at: 11/28/2012 10:16 PM
By: Travis Dill
Nearly 400 workers at the Sappi paper mill in Cloquet are prepared to strike.
Sappi released a statement on Wednesday that confirms workers have voted to approve a strike after months of negotiations.
According to the statement Sappi hopes the workers will agree to a contract offer, but the company is prepared to keep the mill open and operational in the event of a strike.
The vote allows union leadership to call a strike if they feel it is necessary. The United Steelworkers Union represents the mill workers, but leaders did not respond to requests for comment on the strike vote.
Last month the union held an informational picket outside of the mill to protest Sappi's contract offer.
“The proposal would have split our local right down the middle. They were proposing to take some retiree benefits away from our members that had less than 15 years of service by the end of this year,” Local 11-63 President Brady Nelson said in October.
There was also concern among the workers about wages.
“Our wages aren't keeping up with the cost of living so we keep going backwards every time we have a labor agreement,” Local 11-63 Vice President Tim Dahl said in October.
Sappi said the current contract package is fair and competitive.
The company is expanding the operation in Cloquet. A $170 million project will allow the pulp mill to produce chemical cellulose.
Sappi said the construction shows their commitment to the mill and it will also provide jobs for years to come.
The contract negotiations are sill on-going. The employees have been working under a contract extension since May.