Striking Teamsters face replacements

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After a week with workers on the picket line in front of the Advanced Food Products plant in Visalia, there's still no movement on a settlement. About 100 members of Teamsters Local 517 walked off the job Monday to protest their company's latest contract offer.

The workers say they aren't looking for raises, just trying to keep the same benefit co-payment and hiring and firing practices that have been in force at the plant for years.

"The company hasn't talked to us," said Scott Lupo, a Teamsters spokesman. "They sent out a letter to their employees giving them step-by-step instructions on how to cross the picket line, but we haven't heard from them."
Replacement workers

Calls to the plant's management and to the Pennsylvania-based Advanced Food Products' spokesman, Gregg Kenitz, were not returned Friday.

The company has placed a classified ad in the Times-Delta looking for permanent replacements for striking workers.

With the company's latest offer, workers would pay 20 percent of their benefits package by 2010, an increase from $15 a month to more than $200 month. The first increase — to $110 a month — will take place next month. The workers are covered by a health plan administrated by the Teamsters. While the cost of the plan has increased in recent years, workers say the switch from a company to a union plan saved Advanced Food Products more than $1 million a year.

The employees are also at odds with management over sick leave, uniforms and a new rule that states if an employee is found to be responsible for a mistake costing the company $10,000 or more, the employee will be fired.

The company, which began as Real Fresh, has grown from 13 employees in 1952 to more than 120 today, and now produces and packages four main product lines — puddings, soups, cheese sauces and nutritional beverages.
Longtime employees

Many of the employees have been with the company for decades, but only nine employees have crossed the picket line and gone back to work, Lupo said.

The workers have been without a contract since April 1. This is the first job action at the Visalia plant.


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