Routh Packing offers contract; workers reject it

MARGARETTA TWP. Workers at J.H. Routh Packing Co. could strike after they voted Saturday to reject t
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

 

MARGARETTA TWP.

Workers at J.H. Routh Packing Co. could strike after they voted Saturday to reject the company's "last, best and final" contract offer.

The contract offer included a four-year wage freeze, unpaid holiday pay on certain holidays, no productivity bonuses and would require workers to pay for health insurance, according to a copy of the contract offer obtained by the Register.

"It would cost my family about $3,500 a year with the concessions they want," said an employee who has worked with Routh Packing for more than 25 years. "They want to take all these other things away from us. They're asking us to help pay for some of the premium for the insurance. That's just another thing that will come out of our check."

The worker, who was contacted by the Register, did not want to be identified for the story. He said the vote was 186 against and 10 for the proposed contract.

From what the employee has heard, company officials have been notified about the union's rejection of the contract.

"As far as I know, they haven't replied or responded to the offer of coming back to the negotiating table," he said.

David Stearns, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Routh Packing would not comment about the labor contract proposal.

"I am the only one authorized to talk to the news media," Stearns said Monday. "This company does not negotiate in the newspaper."

Pressed for more information, Stearns said to have a nice day and hung up the phone. The Routh family could not be reached for comment Monday.

Routh Packing is a family-owned business that produces a variety of pork products under the Daisyfield brand name and employs about 200 people.

This is the third proposal that workers have received since the union -- United Food and Commercial Workers Local 911 -- began negotiating with the meat packaging company after the contract expired in February. Union employees are currently working under the old contract. The newest contract proposal, the employee said, isn't a significant change from the previous proposals.

"If the company could get by with the same (old) contract ... yes I would be happy with that," he said, adding that the old contract still allows bonuses, holiday pay and vacation pay. "It has helped (my family) not be on the street."

The employee said that a strike is a possibility, but before union workers can strike, 72 hours notice must be given to the company to clear the packaging plant of all its meats so that nothing spoils.

"If that happens, I don't know," he said about the possibility of a strike.

Dan Keegan, a truck driver with Routh Packing said Monday that he was made aware of the vote on Saturday. Keegan, who is not part of the union, has worked with the company for more than 20 years and if the employees strike, he and the other drivers could be out of work.

The few details the Keegan has heard about the contract proposal include union workers losing hours and paying for health insurance.

"That's asking for quite a bit," he said.

The union worker who wished to remain anonymous said he is most upset about the proposal of frozen pay.

The average hourly wage at the plant, he said, is about $13 an hour. When he first began working at Routh Packing, he started out making $6 an hour. He received raises that brought his pay up to $11 an hour, but then the company locked out its employees for several months in the early 1980s.

"It was hard on my family," the union worker said about the lockout.

After the lockout ended, workers returned to the plant making about $9 an hour -- $2 less than what they had originally made.

"It wasn't an ideal situation that's for sure. (But) that's in the past," he said. "I'm over it. I'm more concerned about the present and the future."

The employee said he enjoys working at Routh Packing, but cannot continue living his present lifestyle under the proposed contract. He said he hopes the company and the union can come up with a new contract before any drastic measures are taken.

"No one wins when there's a strike," he said.

According to stagnito.com, Routh Packing was ranked the 86th top meat processor in the country out of 100 in 2002. The company's net sales that year totaled $110 million according to the Web site.

The current facility was built in 1970 on West Bogart Road. As of 2003, the facility was 150,000 square feet and grocery stories made up its primary customer base.