On March 17th, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 179 in Cherokee voted on a contract proposal offered by Tyson Foods, Inc. The rank and file members voted 175 'yes' votes and 67 'no' to accept a one-year contract proposal.
According to UFCW Local 179 President Jim Brummond, voter turnout was lower than expected with only 60-percent of the union members voting on the contract.
On Jan. 21 members voted 'no' to a one-year contract with a wage freeze along with a 2-percent signing bonus to be paid up front.
Concessions may by Tyson since that vote was a 25-cents an hour increase in wages for production workers and 35-cents per hour increase for maintenance workers. Brummond stated that the increase in wages comes out roughly to a 2-percent increase. "We were happy to have a 2-percent increase rather than just a one-time signing bonus of 2-percent."
"It's been since 2003 since we had seen our last increase in wages, a quarter isn't much" said Brummond. The only other positive concession from Tyson was a little bit of better language in the contract itself, indicated Brummond.
Another concession by Tyson was an increase of the amount on an employee meal ticket. An employee currently earns a $2 meal ticket after having worked a consecutive 10 hours during the day, and that meal ticket will now be increased to $3.
"In 2004 we received a 5-year wage freeze, a frozen pension, plus the loss in severance pay. Also, since the last contract, new hires at the plant can only reach a top base pay of $11 per hour, whereas people hired prior to the last contract have a top base pay of $12.15 per hour. We also had to pay for our own healthcare since the last contract and we only received a 2-percent yearly bonus and that doesn't even pay for the health insurance premiums," previously said Brummond
"That last contract took away a lot of purchasing power from our members to support our local businesses," said Brummond, who also added, "We currently have 386 members. In 2004 there were 611 members in the union. Since 2004, Tyson has eliminated 200 hourly workers."
Brummond also stated, "The way the economy is, this is the best we could get right now."
The 2004 contract between Tyson and the UFCW Local 179 expired on Jan. 3, 2009 and the new contract is retroactive to begin on Jan. 4, 2009 and will end on Jan. 9, 2010.
The union is hoping to start bargaining on the next contract in October of this year. "The Bargaining committee hopes that the economy will turn around by then and maybe then we can do better," explained Brummond.
The union did the bargaining through a federal mediator and not directly across the table. Brummond indicated that having a mediator may have helped in the negotiations. Brummond said that it was the first contract that the mediator had recently seen that had an increase.
"We, the bargaining committee, were not pleased with the outcome, but it is better than nothing - especially in these economically hard times." said Brummond.
Gary Mickelson, spokesperson for Tyson Foods Inc. out of Springdale, Ark., had the following comments about the vote: "We're thankful our team members ratified the contract offer, which includes an hourly pay increase for qualified production and maintenance workers. Given the uncertainty of the current economy, we believe a one-year agreement makes sense. Hopefully, the economic picture will be clearer later this year when the company and union start negotiating again on a new contract."