CHICAGO – On Jan. 21, production workers at V&V Supremo Cheese in the mostly Mexican Pilsen community here voted to ratify their first union contract.

They had voted more than a year ago to be represented by Teamsters Local 703, the union that already represented distribution workers at the company.

The workers had gone out on strike for decent wages and working conditions in May 2001. They struggled through the summer and fall with no strike fund and constant harassment by a thuggish force of security guards who filmed workers as they picketed the plant.

The company had spent hundreds of thousands of the millions they made in profits last year on union-busting lawyers.

Just before Thanksgiving, V&V convinced distribution workers, who had gone out on strike in support of production workers, to return to work, promising that the production workers could also return to work while negotiations continued.

But when these workers showed up the day after Thanksgiving, the company went back on its word and locked them out. In an unusually quick decision, the National Labor Relations Board ruled the lockout illegal.

The V&V workers won their fight because they refused to give in to such aggressive union-busting tactics.

They also had the solid support of their community, including unions, political leaders, religious leaders, community groups and individuals who used a range of tactics to keep the pressure on V&V throughout the strike.

St. Pius Parish, a Catholic church in the community, opened its doors to the workers and organized a “posada,” a chanting procession of more than 100 people who sang in front of the homes of company owners.

Other Chicago unions contributed money for clothes and food and a truckload of Christmas trees. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) brought public attention to the struggle.

Jobs with Justice, together with the Midwest Regional AFL-CIO and Teamsters 703, organized a campaign that convinced consumers and stores to stop buying or selling the cheese until the contract was ratified.

Clearly, there was broad public support for these immigrant workers.

“Anyone who knows the obstacles workers face in trying to form a union,” said Midwest Regional AFL-CIO Field Representative Nelson Soza, “as well as the background of these workers and this community, should understand the reach of this victory.”

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