Teamsters who work at the world’s largest dried fruit processing plant are at work today, under a strong contract that resulted from their solidarity.
The 500 cannery, food processing and warehouse workers at the Sunsweet Growers facility in Yuba City, Calif., recently overwhelmingly ratified a three-year agreement.
“We came to the company with a pre-ratified contract and we said, ‘We are not interested in your last, best and final; we are giving you our last, best and final,’” said James Bond, a 15-year industrial mechanic and member of the negotiating committee. “We got a fair contract for all because the solidarity of our membership was really second-to-none.”
The members had worked since March under an extension of a previous contract. They had overwhelmingly rejected two contract proposals.
The members voted 322-13 to pre-ratify a fair contract to present to the company. At the same time, they voted 329-8 to authorize a strike at the company should an agreement not be reached.
Holding the Line
Ashley Alvarado, Secretary-Treasurer of Local 601, said it was a long and difficult negotiation process over some key issues, including wages, health and welfare, pension and seniority rights.
“I am very proud of how everyone came together and demonstrated that they are a strong union. This gave us the momentum we needed to get the company to accept our last and final offer,” Alvarado said.
In the agreement, the workers negotiated wage increases, maintained the health and welfare at a reasonable rate and preserved seniority rights, which had been under threat due to proposed changes from management.
“We held the line on a lot of things the company wanted to implement that would have devastated our members,” said Jose Castaneda, a 16-year mechanic and negotiating committee member.
In June, the members rallied outside the Yuba City facility for a fair contract. Locals 853, 948, 439, 386, 517, 890, 2010 and Joint Council 7 participated in the day of action.
The Sunsweet workers had the powerful backing of 7,000 Teamster members with Local 601, as well as 15,000 members in the Teamsters Cannery Council, which includes Local 601, Local 948 in Visalia and Local 890 in Salinas.
“The Sunsweet workers are resilient, determined and they never backed down in their fight for justice and a fair contract. They stood together, following a well laid-out plan by Local 601 leadership to achieve this contract. They stand as an example to all Teamsters and workers of the real power of unity,” said Rome Aloise, International Vice President and President of Joint Council 7.
“It’s because Sunsweet pushed us to this point that we banded together,” Castaneda said. “We now know more about what it means to be a Teamster, what it means to belong to a union, and I hope we continue to grow even after ratifying our contract.”