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Legislature — Anti-Trans Pacific Partnership group says workers at WestRock paper mill in Newberg lost their jobs due to overseas competition



COLIN STAUB - Speaking out -- Millworkers were joined by members of other labor unions at a rally outside the Newberg mill last week, which highlighted the link between trade regulations and closures like that of the WestRock facility.Laid-off workers from the paper mill in Newberg joined labor organizations to stage a rally last week that drew a connection between WestRock’s recent idling of the facility and federal trade regulations.

The cost to operate the Newberg mill has risen considerably over the years, which longtime members of the industry attribute in part to competition with countries that can exceed any price the mill could pay for commodities like recycled products, aluminum cans, glass and more.

It’s a process the mill has been familiar with for quite some time, even before its recent move toward producing kraft paper.

“We found the same thing with newsprint, when you’re importing newsprint from China where they have nothing close to the environmental laws our corporations are being faced with day in and day out,” explained Robb Renne, president of the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers Local 60.

Standards for mills in America and mills in China or India are far apart, Renne said, meaning local companies have to compete on a sort of uneven playing field.

The AWPPW has submitted a Trade Act assistance petition that would help laid-off workers train for other professions, among other benefits.

Millworkers have had similar petitions approved twice in the past. Evaluation of each application is complicated and is a long process, but can include looking at the product being manufactured and how much is being exported into the country, and a general look at what impact trade has had on the specific facility.

“A lot of scrutiny goes into whether you fall into that category,” Renne said.

If approved, the aid could particularly benefit some of the younger workers at the mill as it would allow them to return to school for two years while receiving unemployment benefits and getting training for a different industry.

The assistance petition and closure in general has also been noted by federal representatives.

“I’m disappointed to see the Newberg paper mill idling and (I am) deeply concerned about its effect on the workers and their families,” Rep. Suzanne Bonamici said in a statement. “I have been in contact with the Department of Labor and have asked for a swift review and consideration of an application for federal assistance. Good paying jobs like those in Newberg are vital to our region’s economy and I will do everything I can to protect them.”

Bonamici and other representatives were called upon at the rally to oppose the Trans Pacific Partnership, which attendees argued would worsen the conditions that led to the Newberg mill closure and would mean the same fate for other U.S. employers.

“We don’t want other hard-working Oregon families to suffer the same hardships we have,” said laid-off millworker John Haslett in a release. “The TPP would offshore good-paying Oregon jobs and drive down wages in the jobs that are left by pitting Oregonians in competition with workers making less than 65 cents an hour in countries like Vietnam. We’re calling on Rep. Suzanne Bonamici and all in Congress to oppose this job-killing deal.”

Bonamici’s staff said she continues to review the trade agreement.

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