Patterson Vegetable Company employees will get one final opportunity Friday, Jan. 6, to vote on concessions, as the company looks to slash $3.6 million a year to become profitable or shut down.
Eric Schwartz, CEO of the vegetable processing and packaging facility, sent a letter to employees Thursday, Jan. 5, imploring them to vote for the concessions.
“What you have is a last, best, and final vote, which is exactly that,” he wrote.
Several workers who attended a meeting Thursday with representatives of their union, Teamsters Local 948, were far from convinced of the merits of the company's proposal, however. A 24-year employee, who did not want her name published, said the company's problems stemmed from management, indicating that PVC's top brass did not balance their books properly.
“If I don’t manage my money right, it doesn’t matter, I’m still broke and they’re not going to come help me,” she said. “We know the economy is bad and we don’t want to be unemployed, but for a lot of people, it doesn’t make much difference.”
Schwartz stated in his letter that employees will have no other opportunity to vote, as banks will cut off the company’s credit line if its costs are not reduced. Company officials say that PVC needs to renovate its 65-year-old plant, and banks will only provide loans needed for those improvements if the company is profitable.
The company sent out federally mandated 60-day notice of layoffs just before the last vote Dec. 16. If this vote does not go through, "We are on the same path we were on when we sent the layoff notices out," he said.
Schwartz said three weeks ago that the only way to pay for the upgrades was through employee concessions. An employee previously indicated to the Irrigator that the company has lost more than $10 million during the past three years.
The newest plan included profit sharing with employees if and when the plant starts to make money as well as a sliding scale of wage cuts. For instance, an employee who earned $11 per hour would only have to take a $1.50-per-hour pay cut, while employees who make more than $17 per hour would have their hourly pay slashed by $2.25. Health insurance cuts as well as benefit cuts for seasonal employees remained largely the same as in the company's last offer in mid-December.
In addition to pay cuts, the company is hoping 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 also want to limit sick leave to a maximum of two weeks after two years’ employment.
Schwartz said Thursday that plans are already in place for a new plant, and company executives have been in discussions with lenders and capital investors, but they can't move forward until employees agree to the cuts.
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 last 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.
• Nick Rappley can be reached at 892-6187, ext. 31 or firstname.lastname@example.org.