Skip to main content

USW 900 Develops Strong Digital & In-Person Communications Campaign in Lead Up to Contract Fight

Andy O’Brien
28 Jul, 2022
Social share icons

Photo: USW 900 members Nghia Ha &Randy Holman wearing their union shirts on "T-shirt Wednesday."

Members of USW 900 are already gearing up for a fight when their contract with Nine Dragons at the Rumford paper mill ends on June 30, 2023. USW 900 President John Perry IV says the union’s focus in the next contract will be to catch wages up to inflation, improve shift differentials, raise the safety equipment allowance and restrict mandatory overtime. 

Perry said the current contract was negotiated when Catalyst Paper owned the mill and it was going through bankruptcy. The mill would likely have closed if Nine Dragons hadn’t purchased it, so the union agreed to a five-year contract extension.

“We have such an ancient contract. It’s basically the same contract that was implemented back in 1986 with some minor changes,” said Perry. “We really need a new contract to put some restrictions on mandatory overtime because people are working every day of their lives. They have just had it. At the end the day, the company needs to run, but at the same time they can’t push our members to the breaking point so they end up quitting."

Since being elected in 2021, Perry’s has focused on improving transparency and engaging members to get more involved in the union by strengthening communications. Rather than just sending out member surveys, which are often never returned, last year Perry began recruiting members to attend monthly listening sessions to gather feedback and hear what their priorities are for the new contract.

“If you get face to face with someone, you can find the real person and you really hear what they’re thinking,” said Perry. “Anyone can get on Facebook and leave a comment that they normally wouldn’t say to your face. I like to go in there and talk to people face to face and learn what their issues are. And we’ve been getting good turn outs to these meetings.”

But that doesn’t mean Perry has shied away from using digital communications to reach members. Whenever a new worker is hired, he has them open their phones and ‘like’ the union’s Facebook page. There they can find news about meetings, contract updates and even where members can find Perry during the day, whether he's at the union hall, at the mill, at the State House in Augusta or elsewhere. Perry also frequently posts photos of members wearing their union shirts to show their solidarity on “T-shirt Wednesdays.”

“When I started in the mill the average age was probably in the high 50s/low 60s and when you start to get newer and younger members in there are different platforms you need to use to reach them,” he said. “The days of people sitting down and reading the newspaper aren’t over, but you don’t see many people at the mill doing it. Everybody is on their phone and on some social media platform, whether it’s Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.”

In addition, he also uses various texting platforms to talk to shop stewards and union officers. USW 900 also comes out with a traditional monthly newsletter.

“What I want members to know is that we are in a labor friendly climate,” said Perry. “This is the first time in my lifetime where we have a chance to win a fair contract and get that balance back.”