December 11, 2009
Once the election results were posted, Gene Muff was relieved and happy. He knew it was a time to celebrate, because change was coming to his plant.
Muff, a member of UFCW Local 271, works at an Americold Logistics plant in Crete, Nebraska. Last summer, workers at his plant voted overwhelmingly to ratify their first ever union contract, which provides them with solid wages and benefit increases.
Muff has been involved with the UFCW since the beginning of the organizing campaign.
“I told my coworkers we needed to join the union so we would get better treatment at the plant. That when we are united we are stronger, so that way they couldn’t bully us around anymore,” he said.
After workers voted in favor of having union representation, Muff joined the bargaining committee. With the help of the UFCW, workers at the plant fought to get the best possible contract.
“During our contract negotiations, safety was a big issue, hours were a big issue,” Muff said. “We had to bargain for better wages and benefits.”
Muff explained that negotiations were difficult since “the company was very hardheaded throughout the first year. Afterwards, the company realized we weren’t going to give up. Then, they got down to business.”
With unity, strength and fortitude, workers at Americold negotiated a good first contract.
“When we ratified the contract my coworkers were very happy,” said Muff.
“When they saw the final contract for the first time, they realized that the entire wait was worth it. It was worth standing together and standing up to the company, because we made our lives much better.”
Now workers at Americold are part of the more than 250,000 workers in the poultry and meatpacking industries nationwide who have a union contract with the UFCW.
“This contract gives us wages that protect full-time, family-supporting jobs in our community,” Muff said.
The new Americold contract includes:
- Average wage increases of $1.44/hr for the first year and an additional 30 cents per hour for the next four years;
- A formal system to resolve workplace issues;
- Time and a half pay for holiday work;
- Night shift premium wages;
- Affordable family health coverage;
- Job advancement opportunities based on seniority; and,
- Funeral leave and paid vacation benefits.
“We got lower costs for health care. We got guaranteed wage increases. Now we’re able to stand up as one, and have a strong voice when we need to talk to management,” he said.
Muff said they owe this contract to the support they received from all the UFCW members across the country.
“I believe everyone in our local and in the UFCW was behind me and my fellow workers the whole time,” he said. “When we stand together we can make a very big difference.”
He added that workers at Americold support workers at other plants who are at the bargaining table. He had some advice for them:
“I would like to tell other workers who are trying to get their first contract that they should stick with it. The more you stand together the stronger you are and the better it is going to be in the long run. Your company might try to pull all different kinds of tactics on you, to make you feel like you made a bad decision in joining the union, but it’s worth it, because it can only make your life better.”
April 8, 2008
Luis Rosiles, a Tyson Foods worker and steward for Local 1546, has found his calling as an organizer in training for the UFCW’s Heartland Campaign. Rosiles is part of a coordinated effort to target thousands of non-union packing and processing workers in the Midwest who need a voice on the job. The new campaign is serving as a training ground for organizers like Rosiles, and the UFCW hopes to use the Heartland Campaign as a model for other UFCW organizers across the country.
Rosiles is on leave from his job as a worker at the Tyson Foods plant in Joslin, Illinois, where he served as a steward for Local 1546. As a steward, Rosiles served as a significant link and conduit of information between union leadership and the workers at the Tyson Foods plant in Joslin, and had the advantage of knowing many of his fellow workers. His new role as an organizer in the state of Nebraska presents the challenge of meeting and connecting with workers he has never met before and who may not be familiar with the benefits of joining a union.
“Some have a little bit of knowledge, some don’t,” said Rosiles. “That’s what drives me—winning campaigns and helping people be united at work.
The changing demographics of the packing and processing industries have also posed a challenge for Rosiles, and many of the plants that he is working with in Nebraska have attracted immigrant workers from around the world. Many of the immigrant workers he has approached are afraid of losing their jobs or unsure of their rights as workers in the U.S. To counter that fear and uncertainty, Rosiles and other organizers have made a point to connect with workers outside of the workplace by visiting their places of worship and even their homes to show that the union is part of the larger community.
Rosiles believes that his experience as a steward has helped him hone his skills as an organizer, and encourages other UFCW stewards to get involved with organizing campaigns such as the Heartland Campaign in the Midwest.
“We need more leadership and people getting involved in plants,” said Rosiles. “That’s what makes a union strong.”
For more information about the UFCW’s effort to provide workers with better wages and benefits in America’s Heartland and around the country, visit www.fairnessforfoodworkers.org.