Union members voted 259-5 at the Teamsters Local 948 union hall Monday, Dec. 19, against proposed pay and benefits reductions, including a $2-per-hour pay cut for all workers.
“At this point (closure) is certainly an option,” CEO Eric Schwartz said Wednesday, Dec. 21 by telephone. “We’re not sure what we’re going to do. I wish it were different, but its not.”
Patterson Vegetable Co. released a statement by Schwartz Wednesday morning as well stating, “We have been in extensive discussions with our labor union since October 9, concerning operating cost reductions. Based on those discussions the company made a final proposal to the union on December 15. The decision on whether to move forward or not is in the hands of the employees but unfortunately, we understand that the final proposal to restructure wage and benefit costs was rejected. We are thoroughly disappointed but we respect this decision.”
Three days earlier, the vegetable processor handed out 60-day layoff notices to employees.
The written statement said the company is now headed down a path to massive layoffs.
Company officials had notified the union that they hoped to renovate the plant and keep running, if employees would agree to the concessions, but workers made it clear Monday they were not interested.
“It’s a bunch of garbage,” said one 35-year employee, who would not give his name. “We’re taking a substantial hit.”
The employee said that after concessions on health insurance and pay, he would lose a third of his income.
Another man who also voted against the concessions said the company wanted to profit off the backs of its workers.
“They don’t guarantee us we’ll get extra money when they make money next year,” he said.
A letter handed to workers with their paychecks Friday, Dec. 16, stated that Patterson Vegetable Co. was slated to close its entire operations at 100 W. Las Palmas Ave. and that layoffs would take place on or around Feb. 20.
Eric Schwartz, CEO of Patterson Vegetable Co., said the notices were mandated by federal law so workers would know that layoffs were imminent.
“We’re still in discussions with the Teamsters Local (948),” Schwartz said Friday morning. “We’re still hoping to find a way to resolve this, but we’re also out of time.”
Speaking of the age and design of the building, Schwartz said last week that the company needed to renovate the factory, and the only way to pay for the upgrades was through employee concessions. An employee has indicated to the Irrigator that the company has lost more than $10 million during the past three years.
“It’s nothing anybody here did wrong,” he said of the reasons for the planned layoffs. “They’ve been a great workforce. It is a tough decision to make at a tough time.”
Patterson Vegetable Co. has about 290 full-time, year-round employees, and its staff swells to nearly 600 during harvest season. It is the second largest employer in the Patterson area, according to figures released earlier this year by the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance.
The 4-year-old company, headed up by Fresno-based Woolf Farming Co., bought the aging frozen vegetable processing plant on First Street and West Las Palmas Avenue from Patterson Frozen Foods in June 2007, hiring on most of that company’s employees.
In addition to pay cuts, the company had hoped to cap its contribution to each worker’s health insurance at $300 a month, leaving the rest to be picked up by the individual. Company officials wanted to limit sick leave to a maximum of two weeks after two years’ employment, too. Seasonal workers would have lost vacation time and holiday pay.
The company also sought to suspend all personal premiums, which were wages some longtime employees received above the wages written into their contracts.
Company officials have provided financial information to the union that shows Patterson Vegetable Co. is losing money, according to a letter sent to union members last week alerting them to Monday’s vote.
Union officials this week refused to comment on the matter.
• Nick Rappley can be reached at 892-6187 or firstname.lastname@example.org.