New global trade union alliance formed at WestRock

14.09.2018

Building solidarity and joint action, unions from around the world affiliated to IndustriALL and UNI Global Union have formed a new alliance of workers at the multinational paper and packaging company WestRock.

Meeting in Destin, Florida, on 22 August around 120 union delegates from North and South America, Europe and Asia analysed WestRock’s labour relations in the different regions, established a coordination committee for the alliance, and set an action plan.

After a series of major acquisitions over recent years, the smaller company RockTenn has rapidly expanded into a global giant, purchasing Smurfit Stone, MeadWestvaco, and MPS among others with the major Kapstone acquisition pending. The company’s status as a major multinational necessitates proactive global labour relations through corporate social behaviour dialogue with its global unions.

Leeann Foster from the USW, the union that will chair the new alliance said:

Our new alliance is convinced that dialogue between labour and management at every level -- whether it local, national or global -- is of benefit to both the workers and the company. As the union representing workers where many multinationals are based and through our work with IndustriALL and UNI, we have vast experience and expertise in fostering such dialogue and assisting in avoiding unnecessary conflict while addressing any discrepancies in how a company’s official global relations policy is implemented in reality. We want to foster pro-active, stable labour relations in every WestRock region.

The meeting heard from Brazilian union leaders representing WestRock workers who are facing a plant closure in the city of Valinhos, near Sao Paulo and construction of a new facility an hour away in Porto Feliz. The meeting was concerned to hear that despite the company reporting excellent results and record profits from the Brazil operations, Brazilian unions are forced to campaign to keep the Riegesa plant open. If the plant cannot be saved the local union STIPAP is demanding dialogue with WestRock towards a social plan for the more than 600 workers losing their job. The meeting adopted the following solidarity statement regarding the case:

The newly-formed Global WestRock Trade Union Alliance stands in solidarity with the WestRock workers in the city of Valinhos who are campaigning against the closure of the successful Riegesa plant which threatens the livelihoods of over 600 families who have contributed to the company’s achievements in Brazil. It is clear that WestRock must sit down to dialogue with the union towards agreeing a social plan for the workers who risk losing their employment. All unions of the global alliance will be following with full support the company’s behaviour towards the Riegesa workers. These workers must be treated with the respect they deserve.

Chair of the company’s European Works Council, Raffiq Moosa said:

We have built up a relationship based on trust and respect over a number of years in Europe. We will be seeking to extend that to the global level now. Organizing will be a central priority going forward.

The new alliance will now get started on its action plan, led by the coordination committee that was constituted by the meeting.

WestRock reported sales of US$4.1 billion for the third quarter of this financial year.