Humboldt Creamery Workers Want Equal Pay to Unionized Counterparts in Modesto

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Workers at Humboldt Creamery, which in 2009 was sold to Foster Farms, complain they are being paid much less than their unionized counterparts in Modesto. They recently rejected a contract that they say would have continued to pay them less.

Below is a letter the workers wrote to management that they are asking their community to read.

This letter was sent via email to management on 9-27-17.

To the mediator and negotiating committee members:

The Foster Farms representatives are not negotiating in good faith for several reasons. One is compensation discrimination, and another is that we are not making any gains in compensation. In fact we are going backwards. How is this possible? Compare the labor agreements between the Modesto and Fernbridge facilities, and the differences between the two plants. Also compare the actions of management.

The union/labor negotiating committee acquired a copy of the contract with the plant in Modesto. In this contract on page 46, it gives the job description of a bracket IV Junior Clerk, which reads as follows:

Under close supervision, performs the least responsible clerical work of a simple, routine and repetitive nature. Beginning jobs requiring a minimum of previous experience and training. Tasks include, but are not limited to, filing and general typing, making copies, simple arithmetic calculations, prepare mailing packets.

On September 1, 2009, the Junior Clerk position paid $19.16 per hour (see page 45). This is the lowest paid employee in the Modesto plant, and this is what they paid 8 years ago. By comparison, the Humboldt Creamery plant currently pays their bracket one employees $19.04 per hour. What does this mean? It means that all personnel, bracket one or lower, are paid less than a Junior Clerk was making 8 years ago. So the company has made a significant amount of money for nearly a decade due to lower wage costs.

What does Foster Farms offer now? There best last and final offer is to give the Creamery employees a raise of $1.30 per hour over a period of three years, which seems reasonable until you analyze the rest of the compensation package.

Despite an increase in hourly wages and retirement contributions, they are going to take money from us in the medical portion. During negotiations, they proposed payroll deductions of $81.00 each pay period. And they have also proposed increased deductibles and co-pays and low percentage caps (this will be devastating for employees who have health issues or a family member who does). If we recall correctly, they are reducing the cost of medical compensation by approximately $2.96 per hour. So essentially, we are going backwards in our compensation.

Humboldt employees will effectively make less than our current wage despite the wage increase. A bracket one employee will receive a .45 cent raise (excluding pension increase), which raises their wage to $19.49 and the company will take $2.96 per hour in medical compensation. In terms of real wages, their hourly rate for a bracket one employee comes to $16.53.

On September 3, 2017, Foster Farms are paying their Junior Clerk $21.86 per hour. How does this compare to what a Humboldt Creamery bracket one employee will make in 2017? The Junior Clerk will make $5.33 more per hour. The Custodial/ Janitorial employees in Modesto are making $22.50 per hour, which is a difference of $5.97 per hour. So Humboldt Creamery employees with far more responsibility are paid significantly less than a highly supervised menial worker in Modesto.

Foster Farms has no legitimate defense for the discrepancy in wages. There is no statistical difference in the cost of living between here in Humboldt County and there in Modesto. The company cannot state that there is a difference in skills, effort, responsibility, or work conditions (nor has the company stated that they cannot afford to pay us more). So if there is no way to differentiate, why is the company making no effort to try to close the gap between the Modesto plant and Humboldt Creamery?

Humboldt Creamery made achievements prior to the Modesto plant. Humboldt Creamery achieved SQF certification before the Modesto plant, and our lab is state certified, while the Modesto plant is not state certified. But our lab employees are also paid significantly less than the lab technicians in Modesto. A while ago, the lab had employees requiring medical care, so a Modesto lab technician that was temporarily filling in saw our contract and stated that they make substantially more than our lab technicians. Why?

The company also fails to recognize differences in experience or licensing. A few months ago, a lab employee had a conversation with Mr. Walter Mendez regarding the company paying employees in the maintenance department for their licenses and experience pay for Grade B operators.

The employee argued that a lab technician with several licenses is making the same as someone putting lids on ice cream containers. So why would anyone want to come into the lab, which requires taking tests, annual evaluations by state employees, and being personally liability for errors? This means that the lab technician could be sued individually and lose their license(s). Why would anyone want to be held accountable and liable for errors or the errors of others without compensation? It only seems reasonable to compensate individuals with licenses for each license they have acquired.

This employee also stated that an employee who has years of experience and training should be compensated for their knowledge and experience. New employees should not be making the same wage as someone who just started and needs to be trained. In other words, a journeyman with 23 years of experience should make more than an new hire /apprentice on his first day of work. This is a practice that has been implemented in both the maintenance department and with Grade B operators.

Mr. Mendez agreed with this lab technician, and Mr. Mendez stated that, “we need to help him fight for it.” And here he is fighting to avoid paying employees under his authority the absolute least he can. In fact, he hired an out-of-state attorney and another employee whose main contribution to society is to provide management with contract negotiating strategies. During negotiations, Mr. Mendez ignored these topics completely. It is glaringly apparent Mr. Mendez did not keep his word, as there is no compensation for experience and licenses.

In addition, California’s mandatory minimum wage is going to impact our negotiations. California is going to raise minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2022 ( for companies with more than 26 employees). Economists recognize that this will raise the cost of all goods and services. This is going to make it even more difficult to support our families.

On September 21, 2017, Mr. Otis sent an email on teamwork stating, “we win as a team or we lose as a team!” Humboldt Creamery employees may wear the same uniform, but we certainly are not being remunerated the same as Modesto employees. So explain how we are on the same team?

One of the cornerstones of our society is equal pay for equal work. It is a commitment to equality, fairness, and ensuring that every worker has a fair chance to succeed in the workplace. What happens when an employee discovers a disparity in pay with their co-workers? Employees who learn that they are being paid unfairly become frustrated and even demoralized or angry. Because of the inequity between the two plants, we feel corporate management treats us like red-headed stepchildren. This lack of equality is unethical and lacking integrity.

The company should immediately implement comprehensive policy solutions to promote greater fairness in the workplace, eliminate discriminatory pay practices, and reduce pay disparities that are essential to ensure all workers are paid fairly. Ensuring equal pay for equal work is an important priority that calls for real action—not just rhetoric.

According to Marcus Lemonis, what are three of the top ten rules for success? Rule one: As a owner or manager, don’t be an ass. Rule two: Make your employees number one—and they will take good care of your customers. Rule seven: Be transparent. Transparency would have eliminated the pay disparity simply by disclosing the company’s pay practices. Hopefully, management will act quickly to rectify the pay inequality.


Dale Wohlwend, on behalf of

Humboldt Creamery employees

P.S. The first page was written prior to [earlier] negotiations. Regardless, there still exists a significant disparity in pay between the two plants.



  • Probably a logistic nightmare at this point, but why can’t both facilities have the same union and contracts cover both facilities?

  • I have been involved in a few union disputes over the years. IMHO, the union wants more and more, so that the members get lazy (it’s not in my contract mentality).

    • Really? You sound very authoritative! You must be non-union management – keeping wages low so you can get your bonus for exceeding profit expectations. The scourge of blue collar and professional workers.

  • If Humboldt workers want parity with the union workers down south, they should organize and join the same union. Has that happened?

  • Wow, foster farms! I visited their chicken processing facility to perform work a few times. It is hell on Earth. And Im not vegan by along shot. I grew up slaughtering chickens. Disgusting place for the workers. I didnt know HC was associated with foster farms but it looks like my taste buds did.

    I never consume anything from Humboldt Creamery.

    “One of the cornerstones of our society is equal pay for equal work.”

    Unfortunately, that is not a cornerstone of our society and it never has been. Americans do not value equal pay for equal work, as it is in conflict with laissez faire capitalism.

  • When they made CA. a sanctuary state, you know it wasnt for the love of immigrants, it was for the love of big business to keep wages low an profits high. Since CA. has tons of migratory workers for labor the cheaper they can get it the better off big agra is, IF you want to organize do it yourselves, a company union is worse than afl cio. The cost of living in CA. is twice that of other states, and should be reflected in your wages. The best thing that could happen is to educate every farm worker out there and then go to a bargaining table, organize yourselves, have a few meetings to discuss what you want, not what the employer wants to give you, remember if your job is some what specialized there isnt going to be anybody to take your place.

    • On the contrary, where unions can be shot down again and again and again, is that there is always someone else who can do the job. Usually for less money and with less trouble. And probably it is easier to find a sober employee anywhere else.

      These days, if not found locally, they can be imported. And in Humboldt Co, being isolated, troublesome and expensive, everything done here can be done elsewhere. Cheaper and easier and more efficiently. That is why it is a rare business that produces goods that stays here. When they go to expand, they find that expanding here is not feasible.

      The unionism can succeed only with support of the public. They must prefer neighbors to have good jobs over cheaper goods. But most remaining unions have seen more dollar signs in representing the immigrant replacement workers than in protecting jobs from them.

      There was never such a marriage made in hell that that between liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans as on this- native labor is not worth protecting. They both find agreement on this one issue- imported labor is a good thing. It turns unions, group who used to have political clout, into a beggar on the Capitol steps.

      If you think Humboldt Co can strong arm business for jobs, just look at this site. See people clamoring for good paying work? Or even articles about anything much outside pot issues? Or seeing the need for even the slightest compromise on anything to make business welcome.

      No. What you will see is endless delusion that money will magically appear to be thrown at any want without anyone having to be inconvenienced by being expect to work for it. The contempt for people doing hard work for a decent income is continuous while the criminal and the non worker is celebrated as the poor victim of society. This county can’t even attract enough doctors as it only takes one visit to see that it is a crime and drug riddled society where the population demands services and refuses to even think about working to pay for them.

  • Thank you Obama care, creamery health insurance has always been better than most which comes with a hefty premium, so What is the current dollar amount for an union employee plan , 1200 a month , 2000 a month , wonder why the raise in pay isn’t bigger , but just think every system sucker in America has free healthcare,

    • You are right, if you can get healthcare for free why work? stay home an grow dope, live off your neighbors wages. at 20 bucks an hour its poverty level wages anyway. By the time you pay ssi healthcare fica. and the rest of the stuff, you will be lucky if you arent owing the employer money. But labor is worth something, and somebody has to do it.

    • Unions will be shot down,reason being they represent the worst as well the best of a trade. if you are good at what you do the last thing you need is another leech on your pay stub. that is why they have apprentice programs, you dont start at the top. You need to start at the bottom, some people think they should start at the top. that is what destroys unions, an employer can hire a bum then he pays his dues and he is now a member as long as he pays his dues. no craftmanship ! just a dues paying member. now you know why unions are on their way out.

  • How much was h.c. Paying before foster farms bought it?

  • All this and still the milk always spoils before the sell date. I gave up buying Humboldt Creamery products quite a while ago.

    • Thinking allowed

      The last I heard was that Humboldt Creamery milk was not going to be from Humboldt any more. Just ice cream and powder milk. That was last year. I’ve not heard anything further. Except what the linked article says. I think most Humboldt Creamery milk sold here is already from elsewhere anyway.

      I remember complaining to the County Supervisor from my district that Humboldt Creamery was important. He could have cared less.

      But you’d like him just fine. He ran on a policy of advancing pot agendas, removing Klamath dams, buying the McKay tract, raising a million dollars to get another aitline into Humboldt Coo. All popular things with his constituents but totally unsustainable without a business base. The fantasy continues. Don’t look to HSU to let their precious dollars go for local needs. And that and other government work is pretty much all that’s left that gets popular local support.

  • The cost of living is also lower in Humboldt. You are paid just fine for what you do. If you don’t like the pay then don’t work there. Most workers of your skill level are paid much lower in Humboldt County. So stop being whiney entitled Millennials. You are lucky to have a job there !

  • Its amazing how many people have made comments regarding Humboldt Creamery – just accept what is being offered, if you don’t like working there quit, my favorite (UNIONIZE), JOIN THE MODESTO PLANTS UNION, it’s cheaper to live here, etc. Some of these people have worked there for years and have accumulated a PENSION, the employees already belong to a union (hence the contract vote), there are rules-the employees must follow in relationship to the union and they aren’t allowed to pick what division or Local they (BELONG TO) It’s not cheaper to live here, our fuel and food prices are fine examples of that, housing we are comparable if you want to live in a dump. Remember this is the livelihood of your community members, your neighbors, maybe even your friends and family, support them!!! Every dollar earned in Humboldt gets passed around and enriches others lives also.

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