As the pace of raisin harvest picks up, workers at Sun-Maid are completing their 11th day of a strike over pay and benefits and no sign of a resolution anytime soon.
Sun-Maid president Harry Overly said in a recent statement that over the last few months the Kingsburg-based company has tried to negotiate collaboratively with the union, but has been unsuccessful.
“I have asked repeatedly for a serious conversation with union leadership to come to a mutually-beneficial solution,” Overly said. “Unfortunately, productive discussions have not taken place..”
About 500 workers began striking on Sept. 10 after the company, the world’s largest raisin and dried fruit processor, did not budge on its proposal to have employees contribute to their health care plan. Previously the company paid 100 percent of employees’ health benefit plans. Workers were also upset over what they said was a meager wage increase.
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Peter Nunez, president of Teamsters Local 431, disputes Overly’s version of recent events, saying he has tried to talk with Overly.
“I’ve told them to please call me when they are serious about treating these employees fairly,” Nunez said. “And he has not reached out to me.”
Nunez said the mood among the workers is still strong, despite not having worked in nearly two weeks. Although they are receiving some financial help from the union, it does not make up for their regular paycheck.
“The workers are very committed to staying out as long as it takes to win a fair contract,” he said.
Many of the striking workers have more than 10 years of experience at the plant. Nunez said the temporary workers the company has hired are not well-trained or inexperienced, especially when it comes to quality control.
“That is not the skill set you need to ensure a safe product,” Nunez said.
Overly said the plant is running fine, all things considered.
“We can operate at the rate required to fulfill the commitment to our customers,” Overly said. “Despite what has been reported, we have several production lines running, and we can meet the needs of our customers without disruption. We anticipate running additional lines as the week progresses.”
Overly has reached out to the striking workers through an automated phone call to their homes, urging them to return to work.
“We value all of our employees and confirm that there is work available to all striking employees, and no striking employee can be terminated for offering to return to work,” Overly said in a statement. “In fact, several more union members have returned to work, with numbers increasing daily.”
Sun-Maid officials said about 20 striking workers have crossed the picket line with more expected. Sun-Maid has hired more than 100 temporary employees to run multiple shifts at the plant.