9/30/07

Strikers hold out for fully-paid health insurance

For a third week, striking workers at the Riverside factory for Windsor Foods, owner of the José Olé brand of frozen meals, vowed to continue picketing the building until the company accepts health insurance proposals.

Large laminated posters from the company hung overlapped on guard rail near the factory entrance. One dated Sept. 28 said: "No negotiating sessions have been scheduled since the talks broke off on Thursday, September 13th and none are scheduled in the future at this time."

Lynn Sutter, vice president of consumer products, declined to say how many employees had crossed the picket line to return to work. About 450 workers are represented by Local 1167 of the United Food and Commercial Workers. Matt Bruno, a union representative on the site Friday morning, said a few mechanics had crossed the picket line but he wasn't aware of any others.

The company and union have remained at an impasse because of proposed changes to health benefits that would require workers to pay for a portion of their insurance.

Bruno said the issue is the maximum amount workers could pay, but Sutter disputes that. "Nobody from the union has ever communicated to us that the insurance caps are the issue," Sutter said. "We have said all along that we are willing to negotiate in good faith to reach an agreement."

Riverside police officers were called to the area Sept. 20 when it was alleged that a striking worker had struck a temporary worker with a set of keys and a soda can. No one was injured.

Police were called at 3 p.m. the following Thursday because language being used by striking workers was getting heated. No injuries were reported and no reports were taken, police records indicate.

Workers who have crossed the picket line say they have been harassed and threatened. Some workers on Thursday were escorted to their cars by security personnel.

"This is not a civilized strike," said Claudia Bueno, whose mother and two sisters work at Windsor Foods.

On Thursday night, eggs were thrown at one sister's house, Bueno said.

"Everybody pretty much knows where everybody lives," she said.

Bueno's father-in-law, another Windsor employee, recently had a kidney transplant. Bueno's sister-in-law was told while leaving the factory: "You should tell your father to give his kidney back," she said. "They're getting personal."

Bueno's 60-year-old mother-in-law, who has been on sick leave, intends to go back to work Monday.

"They can't live on $200 a week," Bueno said, referring to the benefit the union pays striking workers.

Sutter said she is unaware of any violent acts. "The company has taken measures to ensure that employees can feel safe working at the plant," she said.

Bruno said he isn't aware of any threats or violence.

(pe.com)

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