Workers at J.H. Routh Packing could walk off their jobs to strike this week after they rejected the company's latest offer, a union official said.
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 911 president Jefferson Stephens said Monday the union is waiting for the international union to sanction a strike. Within the next day or two, Stephens said he expects to receive the green light to give the company 72 hours notice to clear out the plant so product doesn't spoil.
Company and union negotiators met Friday with two federal mediators to discuss new options for a contract. A new proposal was presented to workers on Saturday, which an overwhelming majority rejected, Stephens said.
Workers have said they do not want to strike. Instead, they would be happy working under the old contract that expired in February. The contract still allowed bonuses, holiday pay and vacation pay. Since the contract expired, four proposals have been presented to union workers, all of which were rejected.
The latest contract was a "slight improvement" from the offer presented to workers last month, Stephens said. That offer included a four-year pay freeze, elimination of some holiday pay and productivity bonuses and a requirement that workers pay a portion of the health insurance costs, among other things. Workers rejected that offer by a 185-10 vote.
"We did not think it was a good contract," said Stephens about the latest offer. "It was a slight improvement ... it put some money back in the pocket for the members."
One long-time Routh employee told the Register the offer that was rejected last month would have cut his income by $3,500 a year. Experienced workers earn about $13 per hour at the plant.
The latest offer from company officials did not budge from the wage freeze and the insurance contribution.
"Whenever you go backwards is not good," Stephens said. "(The workers) never had to take money out of their pockets before to pay for insurance."
Routh Packing executive vice president and chief operating officer David Stearns released a statement Saturday following the vote.
"We have negotiated in good faith with the union since Jan. 4, 2007. On Friday, June 1 with federal mediators present, we reached an agreement with the union's negotiating team on a new proposal and received their unanimous approval to recommend it to the members for ratification," Stearns said.
"We are extremely disappointed that it did not pass."
Stephens said the union negotiators only agreed to present the offer, but did not approve it.
Stephens said he does not anticipate the company will move to lock out workers, which it did in 1982 when contract talks broke down.
He believes the economy is playing a big role in the company's move to cut costs.
"I think the reason Routh Packing members were able to do better (in the past) ... they've always had a quality product that people were willing to pay for," he said.
Consumers are trying to get the cheapest price on everything today, he said.
"They're sacrificing quality for price."
Stephens said he hopes a strike leads to an acceptable contract offer.
"I'm hoping, but it doesn't look good."
About 200 people work at the meat packing plant at 4413 W. Bogart Road. Routh Packing is a family owned business that produces a variety of pork products under the Daisyfield brand.