‘Things got a little rowdy.’ Sun-Maid plant reopens amid labor strife

Workers strike outside the Sun-Maid plant in Kingsburg on Tuesday.
Workers strike outside the Sun-Maid plant in Kingsburg on Tuesday. rrodriguez@fresnobee.com

Several dozen temporary workers and non-union employees were put in place Wednesday to reopen the strike-plagued Sun-Maid plant in Kingsburg.

“Yes, company production resumed as planned,” said Harry Overly, Sun-Maid president. “Grower services are open and operating, and manufacturing is operating...”

The workers, about 500 of them, have been out on strike since 3 p.m. Monday. The workers, represented by Teamsters Local 431, are unhappy with their salary increase and new requirement to contribute to their health care coverage. The company previously covered the entire cost of the union workers’ health plan.

Peter Nunez, president of Teamsters Local 431, called the move to bring in temporary workers an insult to the striking workers. There were about 300 on the picket line Wednesday morning.

“It is pretty disingenuous for Harry Overly to call the (Sun-Maid) workers the lifeblood of the company and then use temporary workers,” Nunez said. “Is this how you treat the lifeblood of your workforce by kicking them to the curb when they have a legitimate dispute over an obligation to have to pay for a high deductible insurance plan and wanting a dignified wage.”

Sarah Maldonado, a union official, said striking workers were not pleased to see the temporary workers, who arrived Wednesday morning.

“Things got a little rowdy this morning, but everything is calm right now,” Maldonado said.

Overly has urged workers to return to work. And it appears several did on Wednesday. Maldonado confirmed that a few workers returned to work.

“It was maybe two or three, it was a small number,” she said.

On Tuesday, about 250 workers marched outside the raisin processing plant on Bethel Avenue.

If the strike isn’t resolved soon, the situation could intensify as Sun-Maid growers are a few weeks away from peak harvest.

Nunez said he has spoken to Overly recently but nothing has been settled.

Robert Rodriguez: 559-441-6327