With signs demanding dignity, justice and respect, approximately 150 dissatisfied union workers protested peacefully outside United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1149 headquarters in Marshalltown late Tuesday afternoon.
Afterwards, they filed into the building to attend a regularly scheduled meeting.
Their mission: Attempt to elect one of their own as a union steward.
The protesters alleged union officials have not adequately reported on a new contract ratified two months ago with JBS, a local pork producer who employs the workers, did not communicate changes in contract language, have blocked the election of reform-minded union stewards, and have not allowed union members to vote in elections.
Other grievances included a host of worker’s rights issues, safety issues and changes made in the worker’s health care plan without a vote.
“We will be investigating the grievances,” said UFCW President Roger Kail, who watched while the workers filed into the union hall and presented their union cards as identification to staff.
He declined to say more.
Tuesday’s event was sponsored by the League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa, who have joined the dissatisfied UFCW workers, many of whom are Latino.
It claims to be the nation’s largest and oldest civil rights volunteer-based group empowering Hispanic Americans, according to a press release.
It was the second time in five weeks a protest was held outside local UFCW offices.
A Nov. 2 protest attracted approximately 250.
Prior to that protest, several meetings attracting hundreds of workers citing the aforementioned grievances had been held at Marshalltown Palm Beach Grill and Night Club and Midnight Ballroom.
The League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa has been assisting the disgruntled union members with information about civil and worker rights. LULAC National Vice President of the Midwest Joe Enriquez Henry has met with hundreds in the past two months to assess incidents at JBS and has provided a report on the workers’ rights violations to the UFCW in Washington, D.C.
Work glove policy and more
Getting ahold of a pair of work gloves turned into something much bigger for Maria Sanchez, a JBS employee, and union member.
Sanchez has been with JBS for 20 years, and as a union member gets a say in policies affecting workers. JBS sends policy ideas and drafts to UFCW representatives elected by the rank and file.
“The problem my mom started when she needed a pair of work gloves, but a new policy didn’t allow her to get gloves provided by JBS,” said Bernice Sanchez, health services specialist at Mid-Iowa Community Action in Marshalltown and Maria’s daughter.
The policy in question was sent to UFCW members, but many union members did not see or get a say in the changes in policy, they claimed. This included the ability of workers to switch old work gloves for new ones provided by JBS.
Maria could not get new gloves because she had no old ones to trade in.
“Maria went to Kail, the union president, for help,” Bernice Sanchez claims. “Kail said he couldn’t help.”
Realizing she hadn’t been able to see the contract with the new glove policy, Maria decided to collect signatures and pressure Kail, Luis Rosales and Mike Graves to show the contract to the union members.
Maria said normally the UFCw shows members new contracts, policies and plans sent by JBS in order for the workers and administrators to come to an agreement on policy. She said that didn’t happen with the most recent contract.
Collecting signatures of union workers wanting to know more about the new contract was easy, Bernice said.
“Once the rumor spread that she was looking for signatures, Maria got over 200 people to sign,” Bernice said.
In response, the union representatives brought in Rosales from Illinois to talk her out of fighting the union,” said Maria.
“He said: ‘Quit spreading your venom.’ His job was to calm the movement down.”
After speaking to Rosales, Maria and approximately 200 union members held a meeting with Rosales at Palm Beach Grill.
“During the meeting, we could see Rosales was moved by the stories of the workers,” Bernice said. “Still, we don’t think he helped the situation.”
UFCW leaders not listening?
The main complaints of union workers is the UFCW is not taking reported complaints seriously, in a timely manner or were not addressed at all, Bernice said.
Henry, attended the meetings, and LULAC also provided union members with access to lawyers.
“Many of the problems I have heard are about miscommunication,” Henry said. “Some workers feel the union isn’t listening to them well.”
In September, UFCW members voted to choose representatives.
Kail, Rosales and Graves retained their positions.
“Many people Maria knew were not happy with the outcome,” Bernice said. “They claimed they weren’t allowed see the vote count, and many alleged they were not allowed to vote.”
Bernice said the flyers with voting information omitted information stating members needed a photo ID to vote.
It is normal for union members to show a photo ID before voting for representatives. Bernice said
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