LOS ANGELES — “Management and the corporate office believed we would break once we didn’t have a paycheck or health insurance. We didn’t,” strike leader Miguel Perez told the Militant at the victorious conclusion of 113-day walkout at the Rich’s Jon Donaire Desserts plant in nearby Santa Fe Springs. The workers, members of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union Local 37, returned to work Feb. 28 after ratifying a new contract five days earlier.
The workers struck Nov. 3, refusing to buckle to the company’s hardball offer of a yearly raise of only 50 cents an hour, coupled with a large increase in out-of-pocket health care costs. The mostly female workforce was also protesting abusive treatment by the bosses.
“Every three years when the contract was up, the bosses would try to find ways to turn us against the union,” Perez said. “It took all the creativity and support from everyone to survive. Solidarity isn’t just a word, it’s a call to action.”
Workers said they settled for a raise of 85 cents an hour in the first year and 75 cents each of the following three years of the new contract, and with no hikes in out-of-pocket health care costs.
“One day longer, one day stronger,” was the chant by workers and their supporters on the picket line and rallies that marked this hard-fought struggle. The union members staffed the picket lines 24 hours a day and organized several broader actions that drew in substantial labor movement support. BCTGM International President Anthony Shelton, and Liz Shuler, national president of the AFL-CIO, were among those who joined in union-organized actions.
“These workers were amazing,” BCTGM International Vice President Shad Clark told the Militant. “They won substantial pay raises and were able to freeze the medical costs at their current rate for four years. The credit goes to these workers, but the support they got from the Los Angeles Labor Federation, local politicians and the community was decisive in helping them stay out that long.”
Some three dozen of the 175 workers at the plant continued to work. A handful of others also crossed the line over the course of the long strike. “If everybody would have gone on strike it would have made us stronger and we would have had a shorter strike,” Angelica Gutierrez said. “But we are stronger now, and in our next negotiation it is not going to be easy for the bosses to intimidate us. We know how to fight now.”
Fredy Huinil contributed to this article.