Dozens of Foster Farms employees took to streets outside the Livingston plant early Wednesday, holding signs and chanting to gather support for better wages and an improved labor union contract.
Workers used time before or after shifts or during breaks to join the hours-long protest. At one point, close to 150 rallied outside, said Lizbeth Valdez, a coordinator for United Farm Workers.
Rosa Lopez, a 65-year-old Livingston resident, said she was protesting because workers at the plant deserve better benefits and salaries.
She was hired 30 years ago, she told the Sun-Star, and for the last 15 years she’s received about the same salary, just under $12 an hour. When she first started, she made around $4.50 an hour, she said.
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“For a company this big, it shouldn’t be like this,” Lopez said. “We need respect.”
The company and the UFW have been discussing a contract to replace the one expiring in October for most of the 2,500 or so employees.
Foster Farms spokesman Ira Brill did not return phone messages left seeking his comment Thursday.
Union workers are asking to have a “closed workshop,” meaning plant employees would be required to be in the union. Under the existing contract, workers can benefit from terms negotiated by the union without having to join, Valdez said.
The policy has caused a rift, Lopez said, because those who pay to be in the union feel they’re paying for everyone’s benefits. The plant had a closed-shop policy when she was hired, but it changed about 10 years ago, she said.
“We want a closed workshop so we can all be united,” Lopez said. “When it was that way, it was much better. There were no problems.”
Workers are treated differently if they’re in the union, Lopez said.
“The division is really stressful,” she said. “The people are stressed.”
Health insurance costs are another sticking point, Valdez said.
Olga Sicairos said the $400 monthly cost for her medical insurance is too much for her salary, which over 15 years has grown from $9.50 to $11.
“They don’t give us that much of a raise,” she said.
Miguel Rodriguez, 45, said workers are not treated fairly. “Everybody earns very low wages in my opinion,” he added. “It’s not possible to keep paying people low wages as the cost of living is increasing.”
Ignacio Garcia said he earns less than $12 an hour even though he’s been an employee for 40 years.
“I’ve spent my whole life working for them,” he said. “The cost of living is very expensive. We need better wages.”
The current contract for the Livingston plant is with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; the employees switched to the UFW for the new agreement. The negotiations do not involve other Foster Farms plants, including the turkey processing in Turlock or chicken plants in Fresno, Porterville or other locations in the West and South.
Monica Velez: 209-385-2486