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Union workers at Sappi will vote on new contract offer

United Steelworkers Local 11-63 will have a vote this week on a proposed contract with Cloquet's Sappi Fine Paper, a week after it authorized a strike if the mill and union could not come to an agreement.

USW Local 11-63 President Brady Nelson confirmed Monday night that workers will vote Friday on a "revised tentative agreement." Nelson would not elaborate on how talks led to a contract on which to vote.

Sappi employees have been working without a new contract since May.

The company said last week that it was offering a competitive package.

Nelson said this fall that issues with the proposed new contract included elimination of some retiree benefits for younger union members, an increase in the medical insurance deductible and limitations to holiday pay accrued while employees are off work due to accident, illness or military leave, something the union gave up wages and benefits to gain during the 2007 negotiations.

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 Duluth News Tribune contributed to this report. The Pine Journal and the News Tribune are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.