Holten Meat struck after company refuses to recognize seniority

THE FIRST STRIKE in UFCW Local 655’s history of over 30 years at Holten Meat Co. began March 18 after the company refused to negotiate a key quality of life issue that would allow senior night shift workers bid on day job openings. Hotlen would hire new workers for the day jobs. Around-the-clock picketing with more than 60 on the line began on March 20. – UFCW 655 photo

Would hire new employees for day jobs instead of letting senior night shift workers move up

Sauget, IL – In a spectacular display of not considering the value of their workers, the Holten Meat Co. has forced its 200 plus employees to go on their first strike in the company’s history of more than 30 years of collective bargaining with United Food & Commercial Workers Local 655, Director of Collective Bargaining Garry Torpea has announced. In a secret ballot vote on March 18, Holten employees rejected this second contract proposal by a 75 percent margin.

Around-the-clock picket lines were immediately set up. A previous offer was rejected by a 99 percent margin.

“The issue is not economics,” said Local 655 President David Cook. “The critical issue is seniority language as it relates to job mobility, an issue the company steadfastly refused to recognize.”

And why is that so important to Holten’s workers?

Currently, a night-shift worker 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 offered to place seniority 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 last November 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 consisting of Holten employees and union staff.


“A strike is never the goal of negotiations,” Cook added. “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 added. “It’s that simple.”

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 and in a number of food processing facilities.





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