By Joe Atkins, Labor South
Months-long negotiations between Delta Pride Catfish Inc. and members of
the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1529, have defused a
potential strike by hundreds of workers at the company's plant in
Indianola, Miss., and with plants operated by a partner firm in Isola
and Belzona, Miss., all in the perennially poor Mississippi Delta.
strike vote woke them up," said Lonnie Sheppard, president of UFCW
Local 1529, referring to nearly unanimous votes by plant workers in May
to strike rather than accept a company-offered contract that would have
created a seven-day work week, deleted daily overtime, doubled the
probationary period for new hires to six months, reduced seniority
benefits, given the company free rein in contracting out work, tripled
worker contributions to company health insurance over a three-year
period, and other measures considered intolerable by workers and their
Union officials felt the provisions would
have nullified the hard-fought gains made by workers as a result of
their highly publicized strike at Delta Pride in 1990, the largest by
black workers in Mississippi's history and one that prompted a national
boycott of Delta Pride products.
"I was wanting to get this behind me," Sheppard said. "There's got to be common ground."
newly negotiated contract, which workers will vote on this week,
includes wage increases, daily overtime, and a "modified co-pay on
insurance but not bad," Sheppard said. "All the 84 proposals they (previously) gave are off the table."
Had the dispute gone to a
strike, he said, "it would have been a revitalization of 1990. It would
have been exciting, but also disastrous for all sides."
which Sheppard calls "a last resort", have been on the decline for
years. However, the recession and frustration over employer
intransigence and apparent desire to destroy unions have created a
recent uptick of strike activity.
More than 300 workers at the
Mott plant in upstate New York declared victory this month after a
three-month strike at the applesauce plant. Members of the Retail,
Wholesale and Department Store Union/United Food and Commercial Workers
Local 220 won a new contract that restored wage-and-benefit levels that
an earlier contract had sought to cut or even eliminate.
Delta Pride, Mott, owned by the Texas-based Dr. Pepper Snapple Group,
had tried to gut worker pay and benefits in its earlier contract offer,
including calls for $3-an-hour wage cuts and the complete elimination of
pensions for new workers. The Dr. Pepper Snapple Group's profits last
year totaled $550 million, and its CEO, Larry Young, earned a nifty $6.5
The union local said "No!" to the contract, and workers
walked out, a first for workers at the Mott plant. Local stores offered
the striking workers food and other assistance, and other unions, such
as the Service Employees International Union, provided cash for the
strike fund. As reported recently in Nation
magazine, even Canadian politicians weighed in, pressuring CEO Young
with concerns that scab workers weren't up to the job in insuring
"Not a day went by without people stopping
by to drop off a financial or food donation to the strike fund," RWDSU
President Stuart Applebaum told the AFL-CIO Now
blog. "The RWDSU members at Mott's have a message for working people
everywhere: Stand up for what you believe in, and stay united."
Sheppard said a strike by workers at the catfish plants would have produced similar offers of help, just as it did in 1990.