Apple warehouse workers file for union election

WENATCHEE, WA -- Apple warehouse workers seeking an end to poverty-level wages, unsafe workplaces and supervisor abuse are looking to the Teamsters for help.

The union filed for a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election for workers at Stemilt, Inc. here and at Washington Fruit and Produce in Yakima, capping a two-year organizing drive marked by dozens of NLRB charges against both companies and the firing of more than 14 workers who supported the union, including a grandmother of five, Ana Guzman.

The independent Washington Committee on Justice in the Apple Industry, which includes former Governor Mike Lowry and retired State Supreme Court Justice Robert Utter, has already certified that substantial majorities of workers at both warehouses want union representation. But the companies are refusing to talk with their employees. In fact, the Teamsters claim the companies continue to harass and fire employees who support the union.

"The workers have taken many different actions for more than a year to obtain representation, but the companies have not recognized them," said Teamster organizer Lorene Scheer. "The worker activists met and decided that we had two choices left, that either we are going to strike or we are going to go for an election, and they decided to go for an election."

Given both companies' recent history of intimidation of workers who want to join the union, Teamster organizers plan to keep a vigilant eye out for similar behavior as the election approaches and are prepared to file more unfair labor practices with the NLRB.

Executives at Stemilt and Washington Fruit said they welcome the impending vote.

Tom Mathison, founder of Stemilt, Inc., said it is essential that workers and managers at his processing operation "cooperate" to compete in the world market. So far, such cooperation has netted the apple industry some $1 billion a year, while apple workers' real wages have declined over the past 10 years. During that same period both profits and productivity have doubled.

Grandma Guzman, a leader in the effort to win a union at Washington Fruit reportedly has been harassed continuously by management, most recently for objecting to the company practice of forcing employees to work extra time "off the clock" at the end of some shifts. "Even though they fired me, I am not giving up. We are going to win our vote and our contract," she said.


Dec. 5, 1997 issue

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