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Management Side
Strike imminent? Evergreen Canton paper mill union members vote down proposed labor contract

CANTON, N.C. (From news reports) -- Canton paper mill union members have voted against proposed contract terms for a second time, according to union president Troy Dills.

On Tuesday, Nov. 30, union members voted on the latest proposed labor contract. The contract, which expires every four years, defines employees' wages, health insurance and other benefits, Dills said.

"[The] privilege of a union is that you have the opportunity to sit down with your employer and discuss the terms in which you get to work," Dills said.

As the local United Steelworkers representative, Dills works and advocates on behalf of the Smoky Mountain Local 507 chapter. He said of the approximately 1,100 Evergreen Packaging Canton paper mill employees, more than 850 are union members. With about 77% of the mill's workforce being union members, contract negotiations could have momentous impacts on the town and the paper mill.

"Both sides have a lot at stake," Dills said.

According to Dills, it's not the first vote. In October, the initial terms were shot down.

"[The] majority of the membership voted against accepting the terms of that agreement," Dills said.

Right now, the starting wage at the Canton paper mill is $15.53, Dills said. It's not competitive or realistic for the current climate. According to MIT's Living Wage Calculator, a single adult, with no children, working full-time in North Carolina needs to earn $17.14 to support themselves.

"Inflation is real, and we need to accept that," Dills said. "We're asking the company to do the same: recognize it and let's sit down and find a place where we can all thrive."

What union members are after, Dills said, is a fair contract. Until then, negotiations will continue.

"[We'll] see if we can find a path to find something that will work, that the membership will accept," Dills said.

Dills was asked if a strike is possible.

"There's a procedure, I don't want to get into that in detail obviously, but we try to avoid a strike. That's the intention," he answered. "It is a possibility. Yes, it is."

Dills said negotiators for both sides will go back to the drawing board to create a third contract. No word on a timeline.

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