Darigold walked out of federal mediation late Monday night setting the stage for a potential lockout or strike at the company’s production facilities in Issaquah and Seattle. The walkout left no one with authority at the bargaining table, and was the latest in a series of unfair labor practices that undermine the bargaining process and foreshadow a possible labor dispute.
“Darigold locked out its employees ten years ago, and we wonder if they’re heading in that direction again,” said Tracey A. Thompson, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 117. In 2003, Darigold locked out approximately 200 production and distribution workers from its Seattle and Issaquah processing plants for nine months.
Bargaining between the union and the company began in April and continued throughout the summer, but talks broke down when Darigold insisted on significantly increasing the amount workers pay for their health care. On August 18, the workers voted 130-1 to authorize a strike.
“They want to undermine our health care,” said Henning Jensen, a 25-year employee. “Nobody wants to strike, but we will stand our ground and do what we need to do to protect our families’ well-being.” Approximately 220 Teamster production workers and lab technicians have been working at Darigold without a contract since June 1.
On September 6, Teamsters 117 filed Unfair Labor Practice charges with the NLRB, alleging that the company unilaterally changed employees’ working conditions, unlawfully bargained directly with employees over key issues, and engaged in illegal surveillance of workers during an informational picketing activity that took place on September 5.
“Darigold has no business spying on its workers who are exercising their rights to participate in activities that are protected under federal law,” Thompson said.
Darigold is owned by over 700 members of the Northwest Dairy Association. Workers at the Issaquah plant make butter, sour cream, and cottage cheese, while workers in Seattle process hundreds of thousands of gallons of milk every year, supplying Costco, Walmart, and many other grocery stores throughout the Pacific Northwest. The company’s annual sales are over $2.0 billion.
Teamsters 117 represents 220 workers at the company’s Seattle and Issaquah plants and 16,000 total workers across Washington State.