Workers’ correspondence

Creative tactics on the part of 360 workers at Johanna Foods’ Flemington, N.J., plant, overcame a “take it or leave it” proposal by company president Robert Fascina that included a new 50 percent co-pay on healthcare and meager 5 cent per hour yearly raises.

Johanna Foods produces fruit juices and yogurt products for supermarkets across the Northeast. Workers in the yogurt plant belong to a separate local. When a new guard post and gate were installed at the yogurt facility and Fascina failed to show up at a negotiating session, the company’s tactic became clear: force us out on strike while maintaining production at the yogurt plant.

We were caught between an unacceptable offer and the prospect of a strike with the yogurt division still working. The negotiating team contacted Local 863 workers at the area Pathmark distribution center. Pathmark is a major buyer of Johanna Foods products. Next day, 14 tractor-trailer loads of Johanna Foods products came back to the plant, undelivered. Local 863 members at Pathmark told Fascina to get a contract with us, and then they’d unload his product. With 14 truckloads of juices rotting on the docks, and our workers making more every day, management changed its tune. Within days, company negotiators were back at the table.

The new tentative agreement drops the co-pay for healthcare; provides for 50 cent per hour raises per each year of a five-year agreement and introduces a 10 cent per hour shift differential for evening and night work. We even made progress on the two-tier pay system. Currently, workers from the company’s mothballed milk division earn $3.50 per hour more than other workers. We had originally wanted to eliminate this gap by negotiating an immediate $3.50 increase in non-milk workers’ pay. Instead, the bargaining team negotiated a clause stating that as senior employees in the upper tier leave, the senior person in the lower tier moves up. All told, Johanna Foods workers will see a cumulative wage increase of $2.80 over the life of the contract – more than ten times the company’s “best” offer. And no co-pay on health care!

– A proud member of Teamsters Local 863