10/31/07

Striking Teamsters welcome attention

They’ve been on the picket line 24 hours a day for the last week. The union employees of the Associated Milk Producers Incorporated plant in Dawson walked off the job at noon on Oct. 23, seeking pay equal to fellow AMPI cheese plants throughout the Midwest.

The union employees are part of the Teamsters Local 120, the largest union in Minnesota. Scott Herrington said the union employees have been taking shifts throughout the last week — day and night.

“We’re hanging in there,” said Herrington on Tuesday. “We’ve just been picketing; we’re picketing 24-7. We have it on four shifts now.” Herrington, who takes an afternoon shift starting at noon, said evening picketers have been doing well. “The night crews have been doing OK,” said Herrington. “That’s when we’re burning more of the wood. The first night was cold, but other than that everyone has been doing OK.”

David Ulrich said it wasn’t an easy decision to strike. “You lose a lot of sleep, you’d rather be in there,” said Ulrich. Ulrich, a union employee at AMPI for the last 14 years, said both sides have been holding firm in their positions. “I think the problem that we’re facing is that both sides are trying to save face,” said Ulrich. “You have to give it the appropriate amount of time. There is a cycle to these things.”

The strike has gained attention throughout this part of the country, with newspapers around the Midwest picking up stories through the Associated Press. Ulrich said it’s good to have attention brought to the strike.

Amanda Engebretson, a union employee at AMPI, said there has been some misunderstanding about certain aspects of the strike.

Engebretson said published reports that the AMPI site in Dawson is the lowest paid of the 15 AMPI locations is incorrect. She said of the five cheese producing locations for AMPI, Dawson is the lowest paid.

“Misinformation is coming out that we’re the lowest paid of the 15 plants,” said Engebretson. “We are not the lowest paid of the 15 plants, we are the lowest paid of five cheese plants. There are several other plants out there. We’re fighting to be more equal with the other cheese plants.”

Ulrich said the strike goes beyond equal pay and benefits, it also goes to the heart of how the employees have been treated at the plant.

“It’s not entirely about pay. There is also a feeling of being treated like second-class citizens,” said Ulrich.

The strike followed a breakdown in negotiations for a new contract between the union and AMPI in early October. Negotiations broke off the weekend of Oct. 20. Last week, AMPI representatives said milk has been diverted to other AMPI locations throughout the Midwest to ensure production continues.

AMPI has 15 plants that produce various dairy products, including cheese.

An attempt to contact AMPI late Tuesday by the Independent was unsuccessful.

(marshallindependent.com)

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