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Publish Date: 5/19/2005

Sara Bailey, right, talks to Adela Ramirez and other ConAgra employees at the VFW hall Wednesday about keeping Local 7 as their Union. About 600 members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 will be voting today on whether to keep Local 7, form their own “Longmont committee,” or jettison union representation altogether.Times-Call/Erin McCracken

ConAgra union to vote
Employees to decide whether to keep Local 7 ties

LONGMONT — Whether United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 continues representing nearly 600 workers at ConAgra’s turkey plant will be decided today in a secret-ballot vote of union members.

Union workers will choose one of three options: have Local 7 remain as their union representation; form a Longmont Workers Committee that would represent the workers’ interests before management; vote to have no representation whatsoever.

The vote on whether to oust the union is highly unusual, according to Oscar Saenz, assistant to the director of the packing, food processing and manufacturing division of Local 7 International.

“Usually we have this situation where you are organizing a new unit (of Local 7), but you never have this situation where you already have a contract with (the company),” said Saenz, who flew in from Washington, D.C., for the vote.

About 750 of the 900 workers at the Longmont plant are union. Members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 001, about 160 people at the ConAgra plant, have already settled on a new contract with the company. The remaining 590 members of Local 7 have been working under an extended contract since the former three-year deal expired Feb. 5.

Wednesday, Local 7 had an open house at the VFW hall for union workers to drop by, ask questions and meet with union officials. Workers who showed up in the early afternoon were passing around anti-union literature they say has been distributed by the company in the past several days.

“For five months, (Local 7) put up roadblocks preventing the election from proceeding,” read the letter in a series of bullet points directed at employees. “They ran a campaign of fear, threat and intimidation.”

The letter also states: “The vote will be by secret ballot. No one will know how you vote ... We ask you to vote neither.”

Fernando Rodriquez, director of Local 7 for the Longmont plant, said the anti-union letter is just one example of intimidation of union workers by the company.

“Last week they brought in 10 to 14 people from other states ... taking people off the line, five or six at a time, telling them, ‘This is why you don’t want the union,’” he said.

Local 7 handed out literature of its own Wednesday, including a flier urging workers to vote to keep Local 7 and a list of 30 grievances it says it has filed against the company, many of which involve “chain speed,” or the speed at which the production line moves.

Rodriquez said chain speed is an issue that must be agreed upon in a new contract for the sake of the safety of the workers.

Saenz said UFCW International was not concerned that a vote to oust the union at the Longmont plant could set a precedent for membership elsewhere.

“This is a local issue,” he said.

“We’re concerned about the 600 workers here,” added Local 7 spokesman Dave Minshall. “I would look at it a different way — I would say we could send a strong message to ConAgra that our workers do want and need union representation.”

Longmont is one of 26 domestic manufacturing sites for ConAgra, which also has three overseas, and the corporation is is home to some of the most famous food brands in the world, including Armour, Butterball, Chef Boyardee, Libby’s, Swiss Miss, Manwich and Healthy Choice.

Rodriquez said today’s vote will take place in the company’s cafeteria, with the polls closing at 5 p.m. Calls to a ConAgra spokesman at its Omaha, Neb., headquarters went unreturned by press time Wednesday.

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-684-5291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.

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