Puget Sound Darigold staff on verge of strike amid contract negotiations

In July, the Teamsters Local 117 union, which represents the Puget Sound dairy workers employed by Darigold, gave its final approval to the strike amid new contract negotiations. Now, months after their union contract with Darigold expired and many have been working without contracts since the end of May, workers are still on the verge of a strike.

After the union proposed flat-rate wage increases for all employees, Darigold suggested lowering the wages of many workers. Union officials refer to this as “bad faith” bargaining.

“Darigold not only failed to acknowledge the sacrifices his employees and their families made during the pandemic, but also failed to negotiate in good faith with the union,” said John Scearcy, secretary and treasurer of Teamsters 117.

Union spokeswoman Yulia Issa said workers cite poor medical performance amid the pandemic, lack of respect and outsourcing as complaints against Darigold, along with poor negotiations.

Issa said workers have filed complaints about Darigold’s stingy sick leave policy, which they believe violates the state’s new law on paid family and sick leave. She said many workers were not given paid medical leave during the pandemic, which poses detrimental risks for medically vulnerable workers and their families.

The outsourcing of union jobs was also raised as an issue among union workers. Issa said the dairy industry often requires a highly specialized workforce that cannot be replaced by less skilled and experienced workers.

Issa said that external warehouse keepers’ mishandling of dairy products has resulted in “70 truckloads” of product being wasted, adding up to 376,000 gallons of milk, cottage cheese and sour cream.

The union also raised the issue of Darigold’s recent announcement of a $ 500 million manufacturing facility in Pasco, Washington. Workers fear that this new facility will create jobs at the Seattle and Issaquah Darigold plants.

In 2003, Teamsters 117 Union workers at the Seattle Darigold plant went on a nine-month strike. Issa said that some workers were employed at the time and still remember the conflict.

“The company’s refusal to negotiate in good faith only shows its lack of respect for us,” said Jacob Westerlund, a team steward at Darigold. “Nobody wants a strike, but we are serious about calling for justice and defending our livelihoods.”

The brokerage of union contracts is still under negotiation and updates are expected next week. Whether union members decide to go on strike depends on Darigold’s proposal, according to a union spokesman.

“We have not been able to have a fully ratified and signed collective agreement with Teamsters Local Union No. 117 Issaquah and Rainier production and corporate lab employees, ”said a Darigold spokesman. “Our goal is a contract that supports the future viability of the company and our farming cooperative and continues to reward our employees fairly. In the end, we have to have a contract that allows the organization to compete in the market. ”

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