Workers voted down a company contract that included eliminating time-and-a-half pay after eight hours, increasing employee co-payments on health insurance, weakening seniority rights, and other demands.
In a January 17 letter sent to the union, company lawyers threatened that if the union members did not accept the proposed contract, the bosses will "be hiring permanent replacements effective January 21."
Unionists have set up picket lines outside the plant and at an adjacent retail store run by the company. They report that they have turned away many customers who have responded to requests to honor the picket line.
The 57 strikers have also started to win support from other unions. United Auto Workers Local 600, which has its headquarters across the street from the picket lines, has agreed to let strikers use its facilities. Members of the Steelworkers union and others have stopped by the picket line to find out about the strike.
A security outfit hired by the company has brought in guards from Ohio to patrol the areas around the plant and retail store and to videotape activities on the picket line. Similar union-busting companies have been known for their attempts to provoke confrontations with unionists and victimize them.
Dearborn Sausage supplies ham, sausages, bacon, and hot dogs to restaurants and retail grocery stores. It employs about 120 production workers.
Pickets report that there are about 50 workers currently working at the plant through a subcontractor. They are not members of the union and worked at the plant prior to the strike. Management is now trying to use these workers to get production going.
United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 876 represents some 23,000 workers throughout Michigan, primarily retail supermarket employees. Several meatpacking plants in the Detroit area are represented by the local. The local is supplementing weekly international union strike benefits to the Dearborn Sausage strikers.
In another challenge to the UFCW, food industry giant Tyson Foods announced January 11 that their IBP Foods plants in Detroit and Grand Rapids will be closed by April 1. The company said production will be moved to nonunion plants in Oklahoma, Texas, and Nebraska, all "right-to-work" states.
The plant shutdown will put some 500 meat cutters out of work in Detroit and about another 600 in Grand Rapids.
The news stunned workers at the plant who were herded into the shipping department to hear a brief announcement from a company official. The company has not offered severance pay or extensions on health insurance beyond April 1.
Osborne Hart is a member of UFCW Local 876 and works at Tyson's IBP Foods plant in Detroit.
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