Word trickled out through social media, news outlets and among workers Friday night that union members at the Sappi Fine Paper mill in Cloquet approved the latest contract offer after votes held Friday.
Sappi employees in the United Steelworkers Local 11-63 have been working without a new contract since May as disagreements arose on retiree benefits, medical costs and holiday pay accrual.
Last month, the union voted to give warning to Sappi that union leaders could call a strike if need be. On Monday the union announced that it had a contract it would let workers vote up or down Friday.
Sappi employee Scott Czerwinski of Thomson commented on a Local 1163 Facebook post announcing the contract approval. He wrote that he’d like to see a recount.
“We felt like we deserved more concession when the company is doing so well,” he told the News Tribune late Friday.
The USW represents roughly 400 of about 715 employees at the mill.
Last year Sappi announced plans to convert the existing pulp mill to produce chemical cellulose, a purer form of cellulose that can be made into a fabric for clothing, wet wipes and other consumer products. In June, ground was broken on the $170 million project.
The project is the largest investment Sappi has made in North America in some time, and the largest investment at the mill since the $500 million former Potlatch mill expansion in the 1990s. The conversion project is expected to be completed early next summer.
The move is part of Sappi’s overall strategy to become profitable. In November the South Africa-based company reported that it had posted a profit of just more than $100 million over 12 months from September 2011. A year earlier, it reported a loss of $232 million.