As Wallula plant idles, union says it’s offering support to workers 

The union representing hundreds of workers who recently were laid off from the Packaging Corporation of America plant in Wallula is offering support and assistance, a top union official said. 

The Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers and the Washington State Labor Council will continue to make sure the laid off workers receive the support they need in applying for unemployment, said Greg Pallesen, AWPPW general president. 

He also said AWPPW is exploring whether they’d be eligible for benefits under the Trade Adjustment Assistance Reauthorization Act of 2015, which established a program that provides aid to workers who lose their jobs or whose hours are reduced because of increased imports. However, Pallesen noted, even if the filing is approved, Congress hasn’t signed off on funding for new applications. 

AWPPW represents about 300 workers at the PCA plant, most of whom have been laid off. 

PCA confirmed in May that it was temporarily idling the plant and laying off workers due to “economic conditions.” The Illinois-based company said it expects to resume operations later this year, though it hasn’t provided a timeline. Its corrugated products facilities in Richland and Wallula aren’t affected. 

Nationwide, PCA has 15,100 employees, including 4,400 on salary and 10,700 hourly. 

PCA wrote in its 2022 annual securities filing that demand for its products has declined as general economic conditions have deteriorated, and it continues to face inflation in several areas, including labor and benefits, chemical, energy, repairs, materials, supplies and transportation. 

PCA is a leading producer of containerboard products and uncoated freesheet paper. It operates eight mills and 89 corrugated products manufacturing plants. 

Pallesen said PCA is rotating down time at various mills. 

“Companies are cutting back on production to reduce supply which keeps prices up. That’s the bottom line. They’re in the business of making money,” Pallesen said. 

In manufacturing, “it’s the imports that are killing us,” he said. “We really need fair trade policies. How do you compete against areas that are paying $4 or $5 an hour with no benefits, and they don’t have the same environmental regulations that we have. Our members are a hardworking, highly skilled workforce. They want to work. It’s a shame what’s happening.” 

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