The union for more than 270 plant workers at the J.M. Smucker Co. announced that it could go on strike against the Orrville-based food company.
The workers, represented by Teamsters Local 436 in Cleveland, are working day to day after a collective bargaining agreement expired on May 5.
At issue, said Teamsters Local President Gary M. Tiboni, is the protection of seniority in case of a layoff for the company that owns such brands as Smucker’s, Jif and Folgers. The union has suffered job losses in the last three years when it went from 440 plant members to its current 280 workers and with another 70 employees taking buyouts as of the end of 2013, Tiboni said.
There have been no layoffs and the reductions have all been through attrition or buyouts, but the union wants to protect its workers should there be a layoff, he said. The company is building a new plant with more automation, which requires fewer workers.
“This has nothing to do with money, it has nothing to do with benefits,” Tiboni said.
“We have union members with 30 years of service and experience at Smucker’s and all of the sudden this company wants to strip them of their seniority in a layoff. That is simply unfair and wrong,” he said.
Tiboni said the company has identified some union members as “team leaders” who would not be affected in the case of a layoff, which the union says is unfair to workers with more seniority.
Company spokeswoman Maribeth Badertscher said, “While we are disappointed that we have not yet reached a new agreement with the Orrville Union Committee, we will continue our negotiations with them to reach an agreement that is fair to all parties. Such an agreement will ensure employees have competitive pay and benefits, a good working environment and opportunities for growth while also maintaining the competitiveness of the plant, which is essential to its continued success. In the meantime, we remain committed to maintaining current operations and servicing our customers until an agreement is reached.”
The company and union have had 16 meetings in the last few months and the last meeting on Tuesday saw no movement, Tiboni said.
Tiboni said he offered a wage freeze for employees through 2014 and the company refused.
The union membership approved a strike authorization vote before the contract expired, said Tiboni. Another meeting is set for today. Tiboni said he is hoping for a final offer from the company that he will take to the membership.
However, if the membership turns down the offer, there will be no notice of the strike.
“If they turn it down, we will be on strike the next day,” he said.
Tiboni said the union had been Teamsters Local 510 until shortly after the last three-year contract was struck in 2009. Then the union merged with Local 436.
Tiboni said it always had a good relationship with Smucker until the last contract.
In 2009, workers went to a day-to-day situation after union members voted to reject the company’s final offer. The union went three months before it ratified a new contract.
“This company portrays itself as being a family company. That’s not the way this company is. It may have been at one time, but it is no longer that way. They have forgotten about family,” Tiboni said.