Silgan thought to be hiring temporary workers at Modesto plant amid employee lockout

jnsbranti@modbee.comJanuary 14, 2014 

— While 100 union members remain locked out of their jobs, Silgan Containers Corp.’s Modesto can-making plant reportedly has started bringing in six to eight temporary replacement workers per shift to run one of its manufacturing lines.

Teamster workers at the plant had tried to secure 1 percent pay raises in the fall, but contract negotiations stalled. Silgan began barring employees from the plant Dec. 11, and union leaders say no new talks are scheduled.

Workers at the Riverside Drive plant reportedly have lost their health care coverage along with their paychecks in the dispute. They are receiving unemployment benefits from the state and relief aid from the Teamsters to help them get by.

“Right now it’s a waiting game, but Silgan has the upper hand because it has all the money,” said Larry Lund, the Teamsters’ business agent. Lund said granting 1 percent pay raises would cost Silgan $12 per week or less per employee, but the company wants to freeze wages for two years.

The plant’s skilled trade workers reportedly have been earning about $23 to $27 per hour, with nonskilled workers earning about $14.

Silgan promotes itself as being “the largest manufacturer of metal food containers in North America with an overall share of approximately half of the market in 2012.” The company, headquartered in Stamford, Conn., sold $2.29 billion worth of metal containers in North America and Europe in 2012 and it reported record earnings during 2013.

Repeated efforts by The Modesto Bee to get comment from Silgan on the lockout have been unsuccessful.

Lund said there is hope the manufacturer’s main customer – Stanislaus Food Products – will help convince Silgan to end the lockout. Stanislaus Food’s plant is next to the Silgan facility in southeast Modesto’s Beard Industrial District. Silgan produces about 100 million tinplate gallon-size cans a year for that tomato canner.

The Silgan plant also makes millions of cans for Escalon Premier Brands, Seneca Foods, ConAgra Foods and Del Monte Foods. “They need to start making all those cans now,” Lund said. “None of those processors wants to end up being short” once the packing season starts.

Since the lockout began, Lund said some smaller cans the Riverside Drive plant usually makes have been produced at Silgan’s plant on Doherty Avenue in Modesto. And some of the smaller cans reportedly have been made by replacement workers hired from a temporary employment agency.

Lund said no gallon-size cans have been produced since the lockout began.

Silgan also has a can-making plant on Yosemite Boulevard in Modesto. The Teamsters contract at that plant expires in June, and Lund said there is concern that it, too, may be headed toward a labor dispute.

Lund said the union is filing grievances over what it considers unfair labor practices by Silgan at the Riverside Drive plant, but he expects those issues may take a long time to resolve.

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at jnsbranti@modbee.com or (209) 578-2196.

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