story by Ryan Saylor
A vote on unionization at one of OK Foods' local facilities will move forward on May 1.
According to Anthony Elmo of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1000, the National Labor Relations Board will oversee the unionization election for 55 maintenance and refrigeration workers at the company's Heavener, Okla., facility, one of three local OK Foods plants where UFCW officials are working with employees interested in unionizing.
UFCW Local 1000 President Ricky Burris said the company's employees deserved to be treated better by the company, one of many reasons the UFCW had pushed for a unionization vote.
"Their wages and benefits are sub-standard and they are joining together to get a fair deal from OK Foods," he said. "I'm proud UFCW is standing with these workers."
OK Foods has declined to offer comment on the May 1 vote.
A press release sent out by the UFCW on Monday (March 31) said workers at the Heavener facility requested UFCW assistance in December 2013 with a list of complaints including "low wages, expensive healthcare benefits, and unfair and unequal treatment at OK Foods' chicken processing plant in Heavener."
The request for assistance at the Heavener site came the same month that the union withdrew its request for a union vote at OK Foods' Fort Smith facility.
At the time, OK Foods said it was a sign that the union would not be able to secure the votes needed to enable workers to collectively bargain
“The withdrawal clearly indicates the Union did not have the support it needed to win the election,” a company statement said. “Management of the company is very grateful to its employees for their support and confidence, and is looking forward to working together to make OK Foods a great place to work.”
While the company was asserting a lack of support, it did not halt the efforts of the UFCW and company employees rallying the cause, who said withdrawing the request for a vote was due to other factors — mainly a result of the company providing the UFCW with a larger than expected manifest of employees in the run up to the planned vote, according to Elmo.
"In the process of giving us the list, which they have to do by law, that list was 600 (more) people (than the union was aware of). We didn't feel we could have a fair election (on whether or not to unionize) until contacting those workers to see if they supported the union or not. So that's where we are."
While a vote will now take place at the Heavener facility, what could happen at the Fort Smith or Muldrow, Okla., facilities is still anyone's guess, he said, adding that it is too early to tell what could happen.
"The (Fort Smith), Arkansas, plant is being run by a separate group of organizers," he said. "We've been working with some workers (in Muldrow, Okla.), but we're not at the point where we're ready to file for an election."
Union organizers for the Fort Smith facility declined comment for this story.
The NLRB-overseen election results will be known immediately, Elmo said, adding that the union and employees of the Heavener facility will be ready to negotiate employee demands with the company should the union vote succeed.
"We will probably send the company a letter the next day to see when they'd like to be available for contract negotiations. Then we'd have meetings with employees to voice their concerns and what they would like. They would appoint a bargaining committee. They will work with us and sit across the table from them (OK Foods officials) to negotiate the contracts with them. Immediately, we'll ask the company to come to the table."
Unionization itself is not uncommon within OK Foods' parent company, Industrias Bachoco, with more than 50% of its Mexican plants under union contracts. It is a reason Elmo told The City Wire earlier in March that there was hope that the company could be friendly to union efforts.
"(OK Foods is) a very successful company," he said. "It's part of why Bachoco bought them (in 2011). I don't think paying better wages is going to hurt this company. I think it helps. It will reduce turnover. Right now, this company blows through employees. They are constantly bringing in new help. My argument to this company would be if these people thought these jobs were better and more stable, the turnover would go down and you would see increased cost savings from that. From a corporate perspective, I would say they may want to give this a look."
Should the company choose to not enter contract negotiations, Elmo said Monday that the law would be on the side of the union and its members.
"We would rely on the law, the National Labor Relations Act. There are some stipulations about arbitration and mediation. If the company doesn't want to engage in negotiations, then we would follow the avenues the act allows."
Shares of Industrias Bachoco (IBA) were down nearly a tenth of a point at the close of business Monday, at $43.77 on light trading. In the last year, the stock has fluctuated between $30.19 and $46.16 per share.