The 178 members of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union Local 125 went on strike Dec. 5, because the candy company wanted to withdraw from the union-organized health-care plan an d replace it with an inferior and more expensive insurance.
The union plan provides insurance for Local 125 members, who work at several companies in the Bay Area. With the company plan, workers will pay an annual deductible for the first time. The company’s contribution, offsetting the deductible, will be cut in half after the first year.
“Most of us had never been on strike before,” Carmen Albor told the Militant.
The company played hardball from day one. They threatened to fire the strikers and collaborated with the Union City Police Department to harass pickets. Drivers on busy Whipple Road in front of the plant were issued citations for sounding their horns in solidarity. A canopy erected on public property to house a well-organized strike kitchen was dismantled at the request of the police. Propane heaters and stoves were banned.
But a fellow unionist from another candy factory lent a mobile home to serve as a strike office instead.
American Licorice hired the scab-herding outfit Huffmaster Crisis Response to intimidate strikers and bring in replacement workers. The company issued an ultimatum Jan. 3, threatening to permanently replace the strikers.
Workers from other unions stopped by to reinforce the picket lines. A shop floor collection by members of Unite Here Local 2 brought in $100. Fired workers from Pacific Steel Casting, run off the job by an I-9 immigration audit, took a collection and visited the picket line.
During the last week of the strike, dozens organized by the Alameda Labor Council and by “occupy” activists joined the pickets. In response to dozens of supporters blocking plant entrances, cops and guards mobilized to escort trucks and vans with scabs in and out of the plant.
Some 15 union members crossed the line during the strike; four of them on the morning of the Jan. 10 vote, including two experienced machine operators.
Under the settlement the strikers will return to their jobs and the replacement workers will leave. Union members who crossed the picket line will keep their jobs as well. The contract includes a dollar an hour pay increase over its three-year term. Albor voted against going back to work, she told the Militant, because she thought if they had stayed out longer they could have won.
“We have lost a battle, but not the war,” said union member Enrique Dominguez. “Now that I know what it is to be on strike, I’ll be the first to bring food and help if others go out.”
“We’re going in with our heads held high,” Evangelina Reynoso told the Militant. “We’ll get more respect.”
Betsey Stone contributed to this article.
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