For the past 66 years, the former Patterson Frozen Foods plant has been a pillar of the local economy, and at one time was the West Side’s biggest employer.
In many ways, its legacy seemed intertwined with Patterson’s. Now, its building is mostly empty, as maintenance workers begin the process of shutting down the facility.
For outside observers, it’s difficult to determine where things started to go downhill.
Certainly, plant employees were nervous when Patterson Frozen Foods sold the plant to the newly formed Patterson Vegetable Co. in 2007, with Fresno-based Woolf Farming as its managing partner. But not a whole lot seemed to change at first.
Over time, employees said things worsened, with the plant consistently losing money and vendors indicating they may cease doing business with the company if plant conditions did not improve.
Teamsters Local 948 officials rarely returned phone calls from this publication, so it has been hard to get a firm grasp on the union’s perspective. It’s unclear, for instance, whether workers felt they would be better off with unemployment compensation than with proposed contract concessions, or whether they merely wanted to make a statement to PVC management by refusing its offers.
It appears most workers were under the impression that Patterson Vegetable Co. would provide much-needed repairs without needing workers to help pay for them via cuts in pay and benefits.
Company officials said the plant was in such disrepair that they could not make the needed repairs without the concessions, which would have brought some of the employees down to nearly minimum wage.
In the end, the plant’s closure is everyone’s loss.
Despite this major setback, local officials and economic development agencies would be wise to court agribusiness in addition to logistics companies to ensure this city has a diversified and sustainable economy.
Agriculture remains strong in Stanislaus County, and the city of Patterson is surrounded by farmland. Well-managed agribusiness companies could thrive here in town, and there’s no lack of a dedicated workforce. The many longtime employees at Patterson Vegetable Co. are a testimony to that.