Meat packers' union wants mediator

MARGARETTA TWP. J.H. Routh Packing Co. officials remained mum Tuesday, but workers did not.
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

MARGARETTA TWP.

J.H. Routh Packing Co. officials remained mum Tuesday, but workers did not.

Workers and their union officials said they would like the contract dispute to be settled as quickly and amicably as possible.

However, they said, a strike is a possibility if the company won't budge on a proposed contract that would freeze worker pay for four years and require workers to pay for insurance, among other things.

Union officials said they would like to meet with the meat packaging plant's officials again -- this time with a federal mediator present -- to discuss the possibility of a new contract.

"We're continuing to (try to) get the company to meet one more time with a federal mediator before we take any action," said Jefferson Stephens, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 911, which represents workers inside Routh Packing.

He said he looks to have a new contract proposal from the company sometime in the next few weeks and added federal mediation usually requires a two-week "cooling off" period. He explained the types of actions that might be taken if the company and its workers remain at a standstill in negotiations for a new contract to replace the one that expired in February.

"Any kind of economic action -- whether it be boycotting, picketing, a strike or informational," he said.

Union workers were presented with the latest contract proposal Saturday. The vote was 185 workers against and 10 for the proposed contract.

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

On Tuesday afternoon, the Register visited Routh Packing and spoke with several workers coming in and out of work. A few of the workers, who did not want to be identified, said they were unhappy with the proposal and hope the company comes back with a better one.

"The ball is in the company's court right now," said one worker leaving work Tuesday.

"If the company says no, we'll go on strike. (But) that's the last thing we want to see. Strikes are no good for anybody," the worker said.

Stephens said the company is aware that the union rejected the contract proposal.

David Stearns, executive vice president and chief operating officer for J.H. Routh Packing Co., again refused to comment about the situation.

"I have the same statement I had yesterday," Stearns said. "We will not conduct negotiations in the newspaper."

Stephens said the meeting with company officials has yet to be scheduled and company officials said they would "get back" to the union.

Kye Dixon, an employee of four years, said he enjoys working at the plant, but would be supportive of a strike if a better contract is not presented.

"We're just all sticking together, I guess," he said. "We feel like the company could probably dish out a little more ... they just need to work out things within themselves."

A meat packer, who did not want to be named in this story, said several workers inside the plant are looking for other employment.

"It's really not worth staying here anymore," he said. "We can't survive giving up what we have now. We're not much further ahead than we were in 1982."

Jack Routh of Routh Packing declined comment.

This past weekend, a job listing was posted on yahoo.com for J.H. Routh Packing. The post said the company is seeking full-time and temp-to-employee positions with no or one year of experience. Starting pay would be $12.10 for cutters, packers, electricians, maintenance and mechanics. Cardinal Staffing is listed as the company hiring for Routh Packing. The job listing was posted on Saturday, the same day union workers rejected the company's latest offer.

Stephens said he received a phone call from a separate union Tuesday morning supporting the UFCW Local 911. Teamster Local 20, based out of Toledo, represents the truck drivers at Routh Packing. Stephens said that the Teamsters support any actions taken at the plant.

"The members are upset," he said.