Humboldt Creamery Workers Allege They Are Fighting Not Only Their Company But Their Union in Letter to the Editor
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Humboldt Creamery workers are in negotiations with their company about pay and benefits. Back at the end of September, they wrote a letter to the editor about their concerns. Now they have written a second letter to the community that we’ve posted below.
To Redheaded Black Belt readers:
This is an update to our continuing plight at Humboldt Creamery, and it is difficult to imagine what has transpired during negotiations, especially since September. We are fighting, not only against corporate greed, but our own union—local 137. We are combating low wages, sham agreements, election manipulation, corruption, givebacks, and greed.
On September 28, 2017, our rank-and-file members voted overwhelmingly against the proposed contract due to contract givebacks and low wages. Afterwords, we assumed our union leaders would immediately implement strike sanctions. Instead, we received a letter dated October 20, 2017 which stated that, “we have received strike sanctions from Joint Council 7 President Rome Aloise, with some conditions…because (approx.) a third of the membership did not previously vote.” Mr. Aloise wants to redo the election. And he has asked for a mail-in-ballot since the company and union did not get the desired outcome. As a result, Mr. Aloise nullified our election results. In addition, he refuses to extend our strike beyond the creamery (It is customary that other plants a company owns join in the strike). Is the union rewriting the rules as they go along? But wait, the story gets even better.
On October 24, 2017, our union President, Rome Aloise, was convicted on corruption charges and employer payoffs, while making $383,462 last year. Mr. Aloise was also nominated by Mr. Hoffa after he was charged with 122 pages of corruption charges. Teamster officials have even set up a defense committee for Mr. Aloise. These charges are a civil matter, rather than criminal, so it is unlikely he will be removed and barred from the Teamster organization.
According to the union’s Investigative Review Board, Mr. Aloise acted against the interests of union members by giving favorable contracts to companies that offered him perks. They also state the Mr. Aloise enter into, “collusive, sham collective bargaining agreements…” The investigators also say that he meddled in internal election procedures. Is that what is happening to us?
Currently, the union leaders are scaring and intimidating members into accepting the contract by depicting what may happen if we strike. Mr. Aloise is also known for strong-arm tactics as well. He has compelled Teamsters to cross their picket lines when the workers went on strike, and he is undermining our efforts by limiting our strike. If we strike, the Modesto workers should be picketing with us, but he will not allow that to happen. So there is pressure by the union to accept a substandard contract offer. Why? Because they need our votes to legalize their thievery.
In August, Humboldt Creamery announced to the media that the facility will stop processing fluid milk—resulting in the loss of 10 jobs. However, the department will continue to operate with no job losses, but it was suppose to close October 27th.But on August 29, 2017, a Memo of Understanding was signed by management and the union. Both parties agreed to allow voluntary layoffs and employees to “bump” other employees in other departments based on their seniority. This was a sham agreement and a negotiating ploy by management because they never intended to close the fluid milk department. This memo also caused some employees with low seniority to needlessly quit their job. In addition, a Humboldt Creamery spokesperson said in September that the company does not negotiate in public. So what do you call this purported closure other than publicly negotiating?
Before we provide further details of negotiations, your readers needs to know the definition of a “giveback,” and how it is normally used. A giveback is a union term for the reduction or elimination of a previously won benefit (such as wages or benefits) that is given back to management. Givebacks are usually agreed upon by the workers in return for new concessions. But in this case, management, in concert with the union, is seeking a reduction in medical benefits.
If you doubt that the company is not going to be saving a significant amount of money, please look at page 4 of your October/November 2017 Teamster newsletter. The Teamsters are boasting that they saved the Saputo creamery $1.35 million dollars by switching from the Teamster Choice Plus to the Select Plus plan. So, this is what we meant by negotiating backwards. Mr. Michael Callihan, the Fernbridge plant manager, said this is false. Remember these are benefits that previous and current union employees have spent decades to achieve. We should not give them away.
It is important to note that every employee has a compensation package (primarily consisting of medical, retirement, and wages), and the total amount of that package, regardless of the precise dollar amount, is going to be reduced and pocketed by the company as stated in the aforementioned article. Union representatives have also repeatedly stated in our meetings that the company will save a substantial amount of money by switching plans. And we specifically asked where the savings is going, and the union representatives stated that it was going into the company’s pocket. Is Mr. Callihan correct? And if the union is correct, is the company going to share this windfall with us? Is it not the responsibility of a union to protect the worker? Why is the union giving away our benefits? Is the new medical plan a benefit for the employees or the company?
During negotiations, we thought the union representatives were suppose to represent our interests, while working out a reasonable solution for all parties. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In fact, the union representatives repeatedly submitted proposals (yes, plural) that were not approved by us (Humboldt Creamery representatives). They were emphatically told not to include the new medical insurance plan (Select Plus) in any of the proposals, and yet they submitted this new insurance plan in all of their proposals. They even had the audacity to unilaterally and arbitrarily change (lowered) the amounts we requested for wages and pension contributions. And they continued to negotiate with management while ignoring our input. They also had the temerity to exclude our proposals. In other words, they went rogue. And we were irrelevant to the process. The union leaders have also admitted to informal meetings with management without us, so it certainly appears that there is collusion between management and our union leaders as well.
We are negotiating a multimillion dollar contract with management, and how well we are represented is important. Compare and contrast the differences between management and those representing our interests by examining their qualifications for negotiation.
Let us look at the qualifications and credentials of both sides of the table, and their suitability for contract negotiations. We will start with corporate representatives. Management has
Mr. Walter Mendez, Ms. Kristen Rogers, and Mr. Steven E. Kramer (and of course, Mike Callihan) representing their interests.
Ms. Rogers has a Master’s degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology, who according to Mr. Mendez, “has made significant contributions,…in the development of union negotiation strategies and playing a key role in negotiations throughout the country.” Ms. Rogers has 10 years of experience utilizing her expertise.
Mr. Mendez has a Business Administration degree from U.C. Riverside, and he has been a Human Resources Manager since at least 2000 (17 years of experience).
Mr. Kramer has a B.A., a MBA (major was finance), and a Juris Doctorate. Mr. Kramer has, “over 34 years of experience.” Mr. Kramer was a Human Resources Vice President for about 12 years. He claims he managed, “over 50 successful labor campaigns for employers…defeating union campaigns by… Teamster…etc.” Mr. Kramer, “successfully negotiated over 100 labor contracts…saving clients millions of dollars….” Lastly, Mr. Kramer also, “tried over 100 Labor Arbitration cases and NLRB Hearings.
How are we represented in negotiations? What are the qualifications of the union representatives that are working on our behalf? Does either of them have a business degree in economics, finance, or accounting? Does either of them have a degree in labor law? Mr. Russell Butler is presumably a former truck driver, and Mr. Ken Malcomson was a driver for U.P.S. Mr. Malcomson has a degree in history and geography—which is totally useless for negotiations. We certainly are not adequately represented. Is the deck stacked?
We have asked for a labor attorney, to be provided by the union, to represent us. Our union representatives response was that our union dues will go up. That is a false statement. Union dues will only increase as our wages increase. We know we are not being represented well, but was Local 517 represented by a labor lawyer? Doubtful, considering they now have the “new and improved” plan. If we had an attorney, it is unlikely he would have tolerated the September 25th take it or leave it offer, since that is not negotiating in good faith.
If we recall correctly, Mr. Butler stated adamantly that we were not going to accept this medical plan. During his rant against the plan, he yelled profanities and made jesters to emphasis this point. A little later, he mentioned we were not going to agree to accept this plan, unless management was going to compensate us. Unfortunately, that did not happen.
Then in the last meeting in September, we asked how the tiered plan worked and if the plan was an improvement, comparable, or inferior to the current plan. Neither Mr. Malcomson nor Mr. Butler could explain how the plan works. Their response was: It depends on your particular (medical) situation. Mr. Butler encouraged us, like a used car salesman, to give it a try—kick the tires and take it around the block. His comments were reminiscent of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi’s statement, “you have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” In short, we need to vote to approve this contract to determine if this is a suitable plan. This is an incredibly terrible way to make a decision that is essential to our health care. Keep in mind that once you lose this benefit you will never get it back. With a lemon (automobile), you can return it.
The union representatives’ task is to get us across the finish line as quickly as possible with minimal hassle. After the meeting on September 25th, both the union and management considered the matter a fait accompli. How do we know? Because all of the management negotiators left town immediately after the meeting. In a meeting on October 24, 2017, Mr. Dave Hawley, local 137 secretary /treasurer, acknowledged that they did not expect negotiations to go this long, nor did they expect that we would vote the proposal down. But they were all stunned by our vote on the 28th. Since the vote, management and the union have spent nearly three weeks deciding what to do next.
On October 16, 2017, Mr. Michael Callihan, the Fernbridge plant manager, wrote a letter to all employees. Mr. Callihan took us to task regarding the letter we submitted to Redheaded Black Belt on September 29, 2017. Mr. Callihan stated that all of the numbers we used were false in bold capital letters. As stated in the postscript, which apparently Mr. Callihan failed to notice, that letter was written prior to September 26, 2017, and we were using numbers from the previous proposal, which was their best, last, and final offer, dated August 30, 2017. Paragraph six of that letter was stating topics that were discussed during all prior negotiations, not the final proposal. All the data we used was provided by either management or the union.
Apparently, Mr. Callihan understands the new medical plan and should be their spokesman for the Select Plus plan. And someone should have marketed the Select Plus prior to negotiations to alleviate our concerns. This is incredibly poor planning and marketing by both the union and the company.
Mr. Callihan also states that we are compensated well considering the costs of our logistical disadvantages, especially our distance from major delivery points. Currently, Humboldt Creamery is paying our janitor $13.57 per hour. In Modesto, they pay their janitor $22.50 per hour. This is a difference of $8.93. Remember every employee bracket one or less is being paid less than the lowest menial clerk in Modesto was making eight years ago. Mr. Callihan justifies this due to transportation costs. Meanwhile, the company is attempting to rob us of hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, which they are going to put into their coffers. Yet, they cannot afford to pay us more, but they have no problem stealing from us. Do you see the irony? Or is this just obscene?
What Mr. Michael Callihan also fails to recognize or acknowledge in his letter is that there definitely is a considerable reduction in our medical benefits, which is a reduction in our current overall compensation package. Regardless, Mr. Calliahan concludes his letter stating that, “It is imperative that we reach an agreement. The alternative to reaching an agreement serves no one’s best interest. Talk to anyone who has been through a strike. There are no winners.”
Mr. Callihan, the management negotiators are the ones who walked away from the bargaining table. On September 25, your team essentially said , “you will take what we give you, and you’ll like it.” It is impossible to reach an agreement when you refuse to meet with us. And we refused your offer. But neither management nor the union are willing to allow us to strike. Why?
Here is why. One, management does not want us to strike. Secondly, our union, as well as management, is focusing greater energy on pushing our co-workers to vote yes. But what we fear will happen if we continue to hold out, is our local will declare that the creamery has the right to impose the contract unilaterally.
The remainder of this letter is our concluding thoughts regarding our predicament. First, there is no way in the world we should be giving concessions to a company that is profitable. This is a form of corporate greed that caught us completely by surprise. Teamster union members should fight corruption and contract givebacks.
There also is a lot of anger regarding the concession the union is forcing onto our unwilling members, especially if the money is not returned to us (in the form of increased wages and retirement benefits) and there is an increase in out-of-pocket health care costs. And there is increase in the generic prescriptions portion of the plan. We also are concerned that premiums will rise dramatically causing us to pay more out-of-pocket if we exceed the caps.
If the company insists on the Select Plus plan, this provides the company with a unique opportunity to close the wage gap between us and Modesto. Give the employees the savings from the Select Plus plan in the form of wage and pension increases.
Lastly, we have a message to the following: To the Redheaded Black Belt readers: we greatly appreciate your support, and we hope you will continue to do so. To Mr. Frank Otis, our CEO: Do right by your employees. And remember, we are more concerned with being able to access affordable health care. We do not want a plan that is going to cost us more. To our Modesto co-workers: Watch out! You are next. They are going to shove this plan down your throat. To Humboldt Creamery co-workers: If we vote for this contract, we will have no one to blame but ourselves. As Mr. Butler stated, the reason we have had so many substandard contracts is because we voted for them. He is saying it is our fault. And he is right. Please stay strong, stay united, and fight this giveback. To vote yes is tantamount to legalized plunder of our benefits.
Dale Wohlwend, Quality Assurance Analyst
Karl Crandall, Quality Assurance Analyst, and Humboldt Creamery negotiator