Members of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 655, in a secret ballot vote this morning at the American Legion Post in Dupo, IL, on recommendation of their bargaining committee, rejected a contract offer and authorized an immediate strike against Holten Meat Inc. The vote was 38 to accept the contract and 124 to reject and strike (75%), Local 655 Director of Collective Bargaining Garry Torpea announced. A two-thirds majority was needed to authorize a strike.
Picket lines were established at Holten’s facility immediately following the vote and will remain up during the duration of the strike. UFCW Local 655 President David Cook said the sooner Holten negotiators present a contract addressing employee concerns, the sooner the strike could end and work could begin.
“The issue here is not over economics,” said Cook. “The critical issue is seniority language as it relates to job mobility, an issue the company steadfastly refused to recognize.”
Currently, a night-shift worker at Holten Meat cannot use their seniority to bid for an open day-shift job if it becomes available. Rather than allow senior employees to work a different shift when a position opens up, Holten frequently hires brand new employees to fill those day jobs.
“The issue our members have is that their company doesn’t want to show them the respect they deserve and give them the chance to advance on the job. We believe hard-working employees who have been with a company for years have earned consideration from their employer,” Cook said.
“This is an issue about the quality of life of these employees. If you’ve been with this company for a long time and a job on the shift that works better for you becomes available, you have no ability to bid for that position and are frequently passed over as the company hires someone off the street. That shows a serious lack of respect for people who have put years of service in to this company and helped it succeed.”
Holten employees expressed frustration that their employer consistently refused to place language in their contract providing seniority rights to employees. Holten Meat offered to place the language in their company policy, but those policies are subject to change at any time.
“These employees have clearly expressed that they want seniority language in a contract that can be enforced,” Cook said. “Years of good service at a company should earn you a better quality of life. It shouldn’t mean you’re treated as an expendable commodity.”
Local 655 began negotiations with Holten in November of last year but the two sides quickly hit several roadblocks. While Holten Meat members expressed satisfaction with much of the economic language in the contract, consistent disagreement over seniority rights for employees led to a strike recommendation from the bargaining committee which consists of union staff as well as Holten Meat employees.
Holten Meat employees rejected an earlier contract proposal by 99% and authorized a strike. Following that vote, Holten Meat negotiators and the Union bargaining committee returned to the bargaining table in an effort to avoid a work stoppage. After Holten made some minor adjustments to their contract proposal, Local 655 was legally obligated to hold another vote. Once again, Holten Meat employees rejected this second offer.
“A strike is never the goal of negotiations,” Cook said. “But we have made every effort to secure a fair and equitable deal for our members, and their employer has consistently refused. Ultimately the employees at Holten have decided that a strike is the only way they will get the contract they have earned with their hard work.”
“Give these hard-working men and women the contract they deserve and the strike will be over,” Cook said. “It’s that simple.”
UFCW Local 655 is the largest private-sector labor union in Missouri, covering much of the Eastern half of the state. They represent more than 10,000 members working primarily in the grocery store industry. They also represent workers in a number of food processing facilities.