Routh to employees: 'Reconsider your actions'|Letter to employees asks them to reconsider contract vote or else

SANDUSKY Take it or leave it. Thomas Routh sent a letter to workers Tuesday telling t
May 24, 2010



Take it or leave it.

Thomas Routh sent a letter to workers Tuesday telling them a strike at the J.H. Routh Packing Co. could spell a permanent shutdown of the meat packing plant on West Bogart Road.

Routh, president and chief executive officer of the company, states in the letter -- considered by some workers to be an ultimatum -- a strike would be devastating to the plant and its employees.

"Unfortunately, there is almost no customer 'loyalty' when it comes to the fresh meat business. We have to earn our business everyday through a combination of price, quality and consistent service to our customers. If we cannot meet their needs, there are many other suppliers out there that are eager to do so," Routh wrote.

Workers voted Saturday to reject the company's latest contract proposal, which would freeze pay and require workers to pay for a portion of their health insurance costs, among other things.

The two-page letter obtained by the Register is addressed to Routh Packing employees and members of the union -- United Food & Commercial Workers Local 911 -- and urges them to reconsider the vote rejecting the contract offer.

The vote on Saturday was the company's fourth attempt to negotiate with union members since their old contract expired in February. Workers agreed to continue to work under an extension of the contract until a new one was approved.

David Stearns, Routh Packing's executive vice president and chief operating officer, said Tuesday afternoon he was told workers rejected the last offer by a 121-44 vote.

Last month union member rejected a similar contract offer by a 185-10 vote.

Union president Jefferson Stephens on Tuesday did not return calls seeking comment. On Monday Stephens told the Register the union had already petitioned the International Union for strike authorization. Once the union receives the OK, officials must give the company 72 hours to clear out the plant so product doesn't spoil.

Stearns said company officials had not received the 72 hours notice Tuesday afternoon.

One Routh Packing employee, who did not want to be identified for this story, said workers could strike as soon as Monday. He'd like negotiations to continue toward a new contract offer.

"I hope they come up with a proposal by the end of the week that is decent and doesn't rip us of our dignity," he said.

What the worker is most upset about is the company's proposal to freeze pay and require workers to pay a portion of the health insurance costs. He voted against the contract offer that was presented to employees Saturday.

"I will vote for a contract that is fair," the worker said. "I'll take the pay freeze, but don't make me pay for health insurance that is crappy."

"The way you look at it, (the company's) not saving any money. They're just moving debt around ... which is coming out of our pocket," he said. "They're not putting as much money back into the plant as they say they are."

The union worker said he voted in favor of a strike because he believes the company can find other ways to cut costs.

"I'm going to hurt really, really bad for it, but I'm not going to lay down and let them give it to me."

The worker said he and many of his co-workers are looking for new jobs.

"There are not many high paying jobs in the area anymore," he said. "We were looking for a new job when we found this one."

Routh's letter stated that the company was operating at a loss in three out of the last four years.

"The reasons behind these financial losses are numerous , but the primary reason has been the growth of large multi-plant operation competitors," he wrote.

Routh also said the negotiating process with union officials was not "business as usual," and the financial condition of the operation made it impossible for the company to offer a new contract with enhancements.

Experienced workers earn about $13 per hour at the plant.