"It's about time that we receive something in return from the company for all the hard work we put in," said Noelia Ramos, a packaging worker with one year in the plant. Ramos is also a member of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 789's Communications Committee.
Workers at Dakota voted 112-71 last July to join Local 789 after a seven-week organizing drive that began with a sit-down strike to protest conditions in the plant, especially the increase in line speed. The company has so far refused to negotiate with the union, even though the National Labor Relations Board dismissed its objections to the election and certified the union representation vote.
In a letter posted the second week of February, Dakota, which is owned by Rosen's Diversified Inc., said the 50-cent raise would cost them $250,000 this year. Rosen's sales were more than $600 million in 1999.
Local 789 union representative Francisco Picado told the Militant that the local got a letter from Rosen's saying it wanted to inform the local of the 50-cent raise, while at the same time reserving the right to not recognize the union's representation of workers at Dakota. Local 789 president Bill Pearson wrote back, Picado reported, saying the union "celebrated" the raise and hoped that negotiations were the next step.
Some workers with several years in the plant have received no raise at all. Celia Grande, for example, reports she is still making $8.50 an hour after three years in the packaging department. Workers also report that those who are late or miss work during the week are deducted a dollar an hour from their weekly paycheck, which adds up to a substantial sum if a worker has put in a lot of overtime. The company calls this an "attendance incentive."
At Long Prairie Packing, another slaughterhouse in Minnesota owned by Rosen's, workers who are members of Local 789 earn $1 to $2 an hour more on the average for doing the same jobs as workers at Dakota. Dakota workers learned of the different pay scales when Local 789's Communications Committee passed out copies of the Long Prairie union contract at a union meeting in December.
"The company is scared," said Miguel Olvera, a leader of the Communications Committee. "The company has the illusion that the 50-cent raise will help convince us that we do not need the union."
Boning, packaging, and kill floor workers have taken action in recent weeks to confront management about working conditions and abuses by supervisors. For example, a group of seven kill floor workers, led by Obdulia Flores, went together to the plant manager's office February 5 to demand that he do something about a supervisor who constantly screams at workers, including Flores's daughter. The next day, Flores reported, the supervisor not only didn't yell, but he didn't even talk or make eye contact with workers.
As part of its campaign against the union, workers report, the company now publishes a newsletter called Bull Notes. The newsletter, which tries to compete with the union's Workers' Voice, claims it champions the rights of Dakota workers.
Samuel Farley, a boning worker and leader of the union's Communications Committee, says that the company has also formed its own Communications Committee, inviting workers it selects to participate in meetings. Minutes of the meetings are published in the Bull Notes.
"The company is trying to make workers believe we are all one family," Farley said. "The company claims that if you have a problem they can solve it and that a worker doesn't need an 'outside agency' such as the union."
"The Bull Notes and the company Communications Committee don't talk about the real problems, like the line speed and workers not getting their full pay," said Lawrence Mikesh, a boning worker and member of the union's Communications Committee.
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