Hundreds of Sun-Maid workers go on strike over wages and benefits

Harry Overly, is the new CEO and president of Sun-Maid

Chicago transplant Harry Overly, the new CEO and president of Sun-Maid, brings new leadership to the iconic raisin brand founded in 1912.
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Chicago transplant Harry Overly, the new CEO and president of Sun-Maid, brings new leadership to the iconic raisin brand founded in 1912.

Sun-Maid workers went on strike Monday afternoon after talks between the company and its workers broke down.

About 250 workers were on the picket line near the plant’s Kingsburg headquarters Monday afternoon, said Peter Nunez, president of Teamsters Local 431. It’s unclear how long they will strike.

The union and Sun-Maid officials had been working on settling a new multi-year contract, but more than 500 workers rejected a “minimal pay increase as well as the employees contributing to the company’s high deductible health and welfare plan,” according to the Teamsters Facebook page.

Harry Overly, president of Sun-Maid, said the union and the company went through multiple rounds of negotiation, having reached a tentative agreement on August 8.

Although endorsed by Teamsters leadership, the tentative agreement was voted down by union members on Aug. 12, Overly said.

“While the decision is unfortunate, Sun-Maid has the right processes and contingency plans in place to meet demand and maintain a responsible business practice,” Overly said. “We know our customers, growers and employees may have questions, and we are actively engaging each of these groups around next steps.”

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Earlier this year, a three-year labor contract between Sun-Maid and the Teamsters Union expired. At issue for workers was maintaining their health care benefits at the same level as the previous contract.

“We have been incredibly proud that all employee contracts to date have included 100% medical benefit coverage paid by Sun-Maid,” Overly said. “Past contracts have even maintained this rare benefit yet also provided year-over-year wage increases. The new contract includes multiple medical insurance options, increased year-over-year, market-competitive wages, continued pension contributions and increased premiums on high job classes to encourage our workforce to adopt opportunities and continually develop their skills for technical application.”

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Overly, whose background is in marketing and sales, was hired last year to help boost the company’s national profile and its sales.

For the first time in more than 10 years, Sun-Maid will launch a national campaign next year focused on rekindling consumers’ fondness for the brand. Overly’s goal is $100 million in growth over the next three to four years. Sun-Maid plans to launch new products, new advertising and an elevated presence in the grocery store.