KINGSBURG, Calif. — The strike of 500 raisin processing workers here came to an end Sept. 25 when members of Teamsters Local 431 beat back an attack by bosses on their health care and ratified a new three-year contract.
The unionists walked off the job Sept. 10 and kept up 24/7 picketing at Sun-Maid’s processing plant and world headquarters during the entire strike. They had voted three times to turn down takeback proposals from Sun-Maid Growers of California, especially the bosses’ demand that workers begin paying for their health insurance.
“We won an improvement on the insurance, that was the big question we were fighting for,” Martina Fernandez, a packinghouse worker with 13 years at the company, told the Militant outside the plant Sept. 27. The company still got a weekly deduction for the first time, but it was cut down. With an hourly wage increase of $1.60 over three years and the new insurance payment, the net raise over three years is 56 cents an hour, the union calculated.
Sun-Maid bosses say they sell some 12 to 15 percent of all raisins worldwide.
Starting pay goes up 50 cents immediately to $13.53 an hour under the new agreement, and rises to $14.63 over the next two years. California’s minimum wage is currently $11 per hour and will hit $13 in January 2020.
The mood of workers exiting the plant Sept. 27 was positive, even though no one we spoke to was happy about having to pay any health care deduction.
“I enjoyed being on the picket,” Fernandez said. “We got to know each other. We walked, we talked, we ate a lot — we even danced!”
“We went back at 6 a.m. yesterday,” Lydia Delgado, a line worker with 28 years experience, told us. “Our union president was there to make sure we were treated fairly. We gathered and chanted ‘Si se puede!’ before we went in. The owners aren’t happy because they lost a lot of production. They lost a lot of money because we went on strike.
“They tried to run my line with managers, supervisors, agency workers, even the nurse, but they couldn’t,” she said. “Now that we are back, it’s up and running.”