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Puget Sound Darigold workers on verge of strike amid contract negotiations

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In July, the Teamsters Local 117 union, which represents Puget Sound dairy workers employed by Darigold, gave their final approval to strike amid new contract negotiations. Now, months after their union contract with Darigold expired and many have worked without a contract since the end of May, workers remain on the verge of a strike.

After the union proposed across-the-board wage increases for all employees, Darigold then proposed to reduce the wages of many employees. Union representatives are calling this a “bad faith” negotiation effort.

“Not only has Darigold failed to acknowledge the sacrifices its employees and their families made during the pandemic, it also has failed to bargain in good faith with the union,” said John Scearcy, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters 117.

Union spokesperson Yulia Issa said that along with bad-faith negotiating, workers are citing poor medical benefits amid the pandemic, lack of respect and outsourcing as grievances against Darigold.

Issa said workers have raised complaints regarding Darigold’s stingy medical leave policy, which she claims violates the state’s new paid family and medical leave law. She said many workers have not been given paid medical leave during the pandemic, causing adverse risks for medically vulnerable workers and their families.

The outsourcing of union jobs has also been raised as an issue among union workers. Issa said the dairy industry often requires highly specialized workers who cannot be replaced by less skilled and experienced laborers.

Issa said the mishandling of dairy products by third-party warehousers has led to the waste of “70 truckloads” of product, adding up to a collective 376,000 gallons of milk, cottage cheese and sour cream.

The union also raised the issue of Darigold’s recent announcement of a $500 million production plant in Pasco, Wash. Workers are concerned this new facility will cause job losses at the Seattle and Issaquah Darigold facilities.

In 2003, the Teamsters 117 Union workers at the Seattle Darigold facility held a nine-month strike. Issa said some workers were employed back then and still remember the conflict.

“The company’s refusal to bargain in good faith just shows their lack of respect for us,” said Jacob Westerlund, a Teamster shop steward at Darigold. “No one wants a strike, but we are serious about demanding equity and defending our livelihoods.”

The union contract mediation is still under negotiation and updates are expected next week. Whether union workers decide to strike will depend on the proposal given by Darigold, according to a union spokesperson.

“We have been unable to reach a fully ratified and signed Collective Bargaining Agreement with Teamsters Local Union No. 117 Issaquah and Rainier production and Corporate Lab employees,” said a Darigold spokesperson. “Our goal is a contract which supports the viability of business and our farmer-owned cooperative into the future and continues to fairly compensate our employees. In the end, we must have a contract that allows the organization to compete in the market.”

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Cameron Sheppard

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Cameron Sheppard