Hundreds of members of Teamsters Local 431 have been on strike since Monday, shutting down the Kingsburg raisin factory in Fresno County for two days before it re-opened Wednesday with non-union workers.
In early August, management at Sun-Maid Raisins and local union leaders reached a tentative agreement that included a 50-cent hourly wage increase for workers. But it was ultimately voted down by union members.
The dispute is over health care. Previous contracts between the two parties included 100 percent employer-paid health coverage for workers. But the new contract proposed in August would’ve required employees to pay some portion of their health insurance costs.
According to a statement from the company, negotiations came to an impasse so Sun-Maid went ahead and implemented the terms of the tentative agreement on August 20.
"They’re making more money, they’re maintaining the integrity of their benefits, and they’re getting more from a pension," says Harry Overly, president and CEO of Sun-Maid. "The total value of that contract versus the last one is nearly a double-digit increase."
But employees say the proposed wage increase isn’t enough to offset the health care costs.
"The employees have to meet a deductible of between $1,250 if they’re employee-only and $2,700 if they’re a family," says Peter Nuñez, head of Local 431. "So you can see where you have money going in one hand and actually leaving out the other hand to pay for the insurance."
Nuñez says they hope the strike has caught the attention of Sun-Maid leadership and will bring them back to the negotiating table. Until then, they intend to strike for as long as necessary.
"We need responsible business-owners and businesses in California who understand that their employees are working hard to earn a living, to have the American dream, to send their kids to college, to provide for their families," says Nuñez. "And they're expecting a dignified wage rate."