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UK: Unite Wins Union Recognition for Workers of Evasive Paper Company

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28 July, 2008

The Graphical, Paper, and Media section of ICEM affiliate Unite in the UK won a key organizing victory on 14 July, when the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) granted workers of Leicester Paper Company (LPC) union recognition with the country’s largest trade union.

The ruling, following two hearings in which longtime, union-avoiding LPC tried to subvert a Unite majority by inserting new workers into the proposed bargaining unit, as well as changing the work contracts for others, means the company has until 14 August 2008 to begin negotiations with Unite.

The union overcame LPC tactics by relying on organizers and activists inside the mill to actively enroll more paperworkers in Unite. A solid majority of the 84 workers at the Kamns towel and tissue mill in Leicester, East Midlands, signaled to the CAC that they want a first-time union contract.

CAC is an independent UK body with statutory powers to rule on applications for formal recognition and de-recognition of trade unions regarding collective bargaining. Hearing testimony from the union and the company’s attorneys, a CAC panel upheld Unite’s claim for recognition, ruling that there were no circumstances identified in legislation that would merit a ballot of workers.

“We have been organizing for years at LPC in what can only be described as very hostile circumstances,” said Unite National Secretary Peter Ellis. “This fantastic result is a testament to all the hard work done by our organizing team and the resolve of our determined membership.

“We look forward to putting the past behind us and engaging the company in a constructive dialogue that will lead to a better working environment for workers at the Kamns mill,” added Ellis.

LPC is a privately-held consumer towel and tissue manufacturer, which, in the UK, is the major private-label producer for retail chains Morrison’s and Tesco. Besides the Kamns mill, LPC also operates three paper converters in central England, employing another 550 paperworkers.

It has also expanded outside of the UK, by purchasing in 2007 a towel and tissue mill of American-based Kimberly-Clark in Duffel, Belgium. In fact, it was unionized workers then at that location, while reaching out to the ICEM for information on LPC, which spurred Unite to refresh its organizing efforts in Leicester.

The ICEM is continuing to build a network of workers at the company’s manufacturing locations in Belgium, France, Sweden, and the UK.