Saputo Workers Secure Contract


Things weren’t going well for Saputo workers at the company’s Lena, Wis. plant early last year.

Contract negotiations were at a standstill after 18 months of negotiations. They knew they had to do something. So they joined Local 662.

That decision paid off handsomely earlier this year when the nearly 460 workers at the cheese production facility approved a new five-year contract with Saputo that improved employee health care benefits as well as the worker grievance procedures.

More than 80 percent of voting workers approved the contract.

Formerly represented by an independent union, they said their employer was forced to sit up and take notice when workers there aligned with the Teamsters.

“It shows what the power of people standing together can do,” said Tom Strickland, a business agent with Local 662. “These workers wanted to change their future for the better and they made it happen.”

Saputo is a Montreal-based Canadian dairy company with operations in over 40 countries. In Lena, workers cited favoritism, unaffordable health insurance and lack of respect as the main reasons for organizing with the Teamsters.

Organizing Victory

Saputo employees said joining the Teamsters made all the difference when it came to getting a great new contract agreement. These workers initially joined the union in October 2015 with a commanding vote: The workers voted 367 to 79 in favor of representation by Local 662.

“The Saputo workers have wanted respect from the company for a long time. Their campaign only took seven weeks and was a quick victory due to the resolve of the group to gain Teamster representation,” said Rick Skutak, Teamsters Local 662 Secretary-Treasurer, at the time of the organizing victory.

“I am so happy to be a Teamster because I know we will be treated fairly,” said Brett Behnke, a string assembler at Saputo.

“I’m excited because I know I can keep on supporting my family and we can negotiate for fair wages and benefits as Teamsters,” said Deb Panske, a stick operator at Saputo.

“This margin of victory shows what we can do together when the membership is this united,” said Strickland.

The local held events that kept members informed and united, including cookouts, informational meetings and other solidarity-building events. After the contract was ratified, the local held another cookout for the new members. And since the election, the new Teamsters have remained united.

‘Power of the Union’

“Just having the power of the union behind us made a difference,” said Lisa Blahnik, a lab tech who has worked at Saputo for 36 years.

She noted that the company didn’t listen to them before they joined Local 662. But that attitude changed afterward, and the workers are grateful.

“I wouldn’t give up being with the Teamsters for anything,” she said.

Annette Earley, a 24-year Saputo employee who works as an ultrafiltration operator, agreed.

“Joining the Teamsters meant respect,” she said. “Management has changed. It is comforting.”

Strickland thanked the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in its help with securing the contract, especially Rome Aloise, International Vice President and Director of the Teamsters Dairy Conference.

He also said Saputo has become a good corporate partner who is willing to work with the union.

“By working together, Teamsters Local 662 and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters are raising standards and improving conditions for yet another group of dairy workers,” said Rome Aloise, International Vice President and Director of the Teamsters Dairy Conference.

The Teamsters represent more than 1,600 Saputo workers at 11 facilities in the U.S. and Canada.