Sugar workers win strike victory

BALTIMORE – Domino Sugar workers voted overwhelmingly, Jan. 11 to ratify a new three-year contract, crowning with victory their 35-day strike at the refinery in the inner harbor here.

It was the first strike at the plant since 1949 and the 330 members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 392 voiced pride at their militant unity, braving icy winds and snow and going without paychecks during the Christmas season.

“Not one worker crossed the picketline,” said Al “Gramps” Schanfort. He was standing with dozens of other Domino workers outside the Knights of Columbus hall in South Baltimore where they had gathered for the ratification vote.

It was a victory that the workers forced the new owners of Domino, Cuban expatriates, Alfonzo and Pepe Fanjul, of Palm Beach, Florida, to drop their plan to consolidate the pensions and health benefits of sugar workers here with sugar workers at refineries in Florida, New York, and Louisiana. “We got back another $3 in our pensions,” Schanfert told the World. “It went from $42 to $45 per month for each year service. That’s still far below industry standards of $65. We got nationwide support because of the retirement issue. Workers all across the country are losing their pensions. The Fanjuls were trying to walk on guys like me who are about to retire.”

The agreement maintains current benefits and preserves the independence of Local 392’s pension plan. The workers also won back two paid holidays, Veterans Day and New Year’s Eve that the company wanted to eliminate. It provides a 2 percent wage increase for all workers and improves the health care plan.

Local 392 President Alex Hamilton said, “I want to thank everyone who supported us in this struggle for a fair contract. Without the generous donations of the good people of Baltimore and our UFCW brothers and sisters, our fight would have been more difficult, our spirits lower.”

Local 392 sent busloads of workers, called “Truth Squads” to New York, Florida and Georgia to meet with fellow sugar workers, winning strong solidarity. The Baltimore community honored Local 392’s request for a boycott of Domino Sugar and also contributed to their strike fund. (Readers of the People’s Weekly World collected several hundred dollars in donations).

Matthew Cardwell told the World, “I had just finished my 90-day probationary period when we went on strike. I was attracted to this job by the benefits and wages good enough to support my wife and two kids. After the Fanjuls took over and tried to take away our benefits, I had second thoughts about staying at Domino. But we all stood together and fought for each others jobs. I think I’m going to stay.”

The author can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com