FRESNO, Calif. — “We’re going back with our heads up high!” strike stalwart Raul Hernandez told the Militant here after the 40 workers at Corn Nuts — members of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 85 — voted to approve a contract and return to work. “We’re stronger,” he said. “We stood together for over two months. And we’re going back as one!”
The workers were up against food giant Hormel, which in June 2021 bought the Fresno plant, the only one that makes the popular snack. The new company bosses refused to respect the union and made each worker sign a new employment agreement, saying anyone who refused would be fired. They imposed a medical plan vastly inferior to the one they had when Kraft Heinz owned the plant. This was in the midst of the pandemic and many workers built up big medical debts.
The new contract, which was voted up Oct. 19, includes a much-improved medical plan and a $3 an hour wage increase over four years. The union pushed back a drive by the company to start weekly work schedules on days other than Monday, an attempt to stop paying time and a half for Saturdays and double time for Sundays.
“After the vote on the contract there was a lot of happiness, of emotion,” shop steward Abel Avila told the Militant. “They were out to break the union and they didn’t succeed.”
“Hormel underestimated us,” he said. Only three workers, new hires, returned to work during the strike. Everyone else stayed out, including other new hires won to the union.
Hormel brought in strikebreakers to try to get the plant going. On Sept. 30 untrained and inexperienced workers lost control of the roasting process and a fire broke out. Thirteen emergency vehicles had to respond.
When asked whether the contract included keeping the scabs, BCTGM Local 85 Financial Secretary Jerry Gil said, “They’re out!”
Solidarity won by the strikers was vital. “We were especially encouraged by the workers from Los Angeles who came to the picket line,” Avila said, referring to BCTGM workers who had struck the Jon Donaire ice cream cake plant for 113 days. “They were a real example, staying out during Christmas and all the holidays.”
Family members and other unionists joined the Corn Nuts pickets and brought water and other supplies. Teamster truckers refused to cross the picket lines. BCTGM locals around the country sent money and messages of support. The union’s International president, Anthony Shelton, and Secretary-Treasurer David Woods picketed with the strikers in September.
“These big companies with their multimillions are giving us the bare minimum,” Avila said. “That is why more workers are seeing that we need unions.”