How Awful Does an Employer Have to Be………

Matthew G. Saroff
3 min readOct 12, 2022

For the workers to turn down a $30,000.00 signing bonus?

It seems that the overtime requirements at the Mahrt Mill paper mill in Cottonton, Alabama are so horrific that their employees did just that.

These are the sort of jobs that people

On the morning of Oct. 1, after a 50-hour voting period, almost 500 union members from three United Steel Workers (USW) locals at WestRock’s Mahrt Mill paper mill in Cottonton, Alabama, voted to reject a second contract offer from the company. The refusal to ratify WestRock’s “last, best, and final” offer came as a result of the company insisting on removing contract language pertaining to what the workers there call “penalties” for long hours. Members resoundingly rejected this contract, even though it included an unheard-of $28,000 ratification bonus — increased from an already staggering offer of $20,000, which workers already rejected on Sept. 21.

The penalties in question include time-and-a-half pay on Sundays (which turns into double time if an employee was already at or above 40 hours for the week), and time-and-a-half pay retroactively applied for one’s whole shift if said shift goes over 16 hours (what’s known as ‘Hog Law’ in the industry).

They are putting people on shifts longer than 16 hours a day?

For this to be a point of contention, this has to be a regular thing.

The employer’s response is to threaten a lockout, which they did.

As to the hours:

………

The paper industry has long been known for its long hours. Production workers typically work what USW members at Mahrt Mill call the “Reverse Southern Swing Shift”: They work seven days in a row on a “graveyard” shift (from midnight to 8am), then they get one day off before working another seven days in a row, this time on the “evening” shift (from 4pm to midnight); then they get one day off before beginning another seven-day stretch on the day shift (from 8am to 3pm). After that, workers get four days off before they start the cycle over again. Marshall said they worked the same schedule at his mill in Courtland under Champion Paper until 1993.

Since WestRock took over the Mahrt Mill, these already-long hours have been stretched even more. Watson told TRNN that the eight-hour shifts are commonly stretched to 12 hours, 16 hours, and beyond. Employees are told to come into work on the few days off they have. Allen Rogers, president of USW Local 1877, representing maintenance staff at WestRock’s Florence, South Carolina, mill, said that paper mills commonly operate with approximately 18–22% of the total hours worked coming from overtime. At Mahrt Mill, Watson told TRNN, that number is 40%. Ronald Robinette, a three-year employee at Mahrt Mill, said that he and his coworkers “very often” have to work more than eight hours a day, or come in on their off days.

This sort of working shift literally kills people, even when not considering what happens when a fatigued worker does something that gets himself or a coworker hurt because they cannot think straight.

There have been studies about shift work, and rotating shift work, and it literally makes one sick and can kill you.

It likely increases the cost of insurance to the company significantly, so this is not about profits, it’s about wanting to dominate their employees.

Management here are monsters, and the good people of the surrounding area should treat them as such.

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