Dozens of hardworking men and women at Hearthside Food Solutions in Byhalia, Mississippi voted to start a union at their work by joining the UFCW. Hearthside operates the country’s largest privately-held bakery, and major baked good brands outsource production to the company. Workers at the Byhalia facility primarily package Kellogg’s cereal many families depend on to start their day.
Concerns about the coronavirus have caused many employees to want to have more of a say in the policies and protocols at work that impact their health and safety both during work hours and after they go home to their loved ones.
In addition to health and safety concerns, the company employs more temporary workers than full-time, leaving many workers without access to benefits even though they are performing the same work.
Rose Turner, UFCW Local 1529 staff who helped the workers organize, knows what it feels like to work without a say on the job or benefits you need to take care of yourself and your family. A long-time organizer with the UFCW, she got her start in 1981 as a nursing home worker in the deep south. When workers decided to try and organize to join UFCW Local 1529 that year, Rose immediately got involved, hoping to change the working conditions: “At that time there was no family medical leave. Women–when they got pregnant, they went out and came back [after giving birth] and they didn’t have a job. You were penalized for getting pregnant, because you had no job. One woman even slipped in the kitchen a broke her knee, [and in order for her to not lose her job] her daughter had to come work while she was out.”
While some progress has been made over the years, employers still look for ways to cut costs at the expense of workers. For Hearthside, the heavy reliance on temp workers comes at a cost to the workers themselves.
“It’s 200 temps in that place, doing the same job that the regular employees are doing…It’s unfair to them,” Turner said. “You don’t have any benefit no more than getting a check every paid period. You don’t have no holiday, no vacation and you can’t buy anything…it’s not a permanent job.”
Full-time employees make $16-$18 per hour, Turner said.
“Money is good but people want to be treated fairly, with dignity and respect, and they want to be paid and know their benefits,” added Turner.