CHICAGO, Ill. – “This is a perfect example that if we stay united in battle we will win the war! Si se puede!” declared Teamsters Local 703 Secretary-Treasurer Thomas Stiede to a jubilant victory celebration here for workers at V&V Supremo.
Nearly 150 workers, mostly Mexican immigrants, had been on strike against the food processing company since May 29. The company was forced to submit to the workers’ demands for union recognition and a contract after it lost every challenge to the recognition vote before the National Labor Relations Board.
“These immigrant workers are soldiers of change and through their own personal sacrifice won dignity from their employer,” said Stiede, referring to the warehouse workers and drivers after they unanimously ratified their first contract.
About 119 production workers agreed to return to work while their contract is being negotiated. As of Nov. 26 the company was locking them out, but union officials expected a quick resolution of outstanding matters. The new contract calls for a 35-percent wage increase over three years for drivers and a 25-percent increase for warehouse workers. A full benefits package will be on the agenda for the next contract.
Stiede read off a long list of unions, community organizations, religious leaders and elected officials, many of them present, who lent their support to the strikers. In thanking them he said the coalition effort was decisive to victory. The coalition organized a boycott of V&V Supremo cheese at Chicago stores .
Alfredo Cortez, a strike leader, thanked everyone for their support. “We can win if we go all the way together,” he declared.
“It’s one thing to have a turkey for Thanksgiving and another to have a contract for workers,” said Rev. Jesse Jackson. “Workers deserve a livable wage and the right to organize.”
Margaret Blackshere, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, welcomed the workers into the ranks of organized labor. “I am so proud to be a union member today. You make me feel there is hope, that we will win and that we can all belong to a union,” she said.
The strikers extended special thanks to Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who rallied support for the strike on numerous occasions. Once, in front of TV cameras, he dramatically dumped scab cheese into a garbage can.
“I am proud to represent you in Congress,” Gutierrez told the workers. “When I return to Washington and people say we can’t do anything for working men and women, I will tell them about you.”
Acknowledging the presence of a group of strikers from Carousel Linens, Nelson Sosa, an AFL-CIO midwest region leader, said, “There are thousands of workers who need the example of your work. We will fight for them too. This is not an end but a beginning.”