Teamster dairy workers gather at the Union hall in Tukwila after taking a final strike vote on July 9.
Darigold production workers and lab technicians at the company’s Seattle and Issaquah milk processing plants voted overwhelmingly to strike on Saturday. The results of the vote were 159 in favor of a strike to 1 opposed. Voting took place at three meetings throughout the day at the Teamsters Union Hall in Tukwila.
“We all stand behind each other,” said Henning Jensen, a 27-year Darigold employee and member of the union bargaining committee. “If the company continues to push us, we’ll continue to fight for our rights. We deserve to be treated like human beings.”
After the vote, the workers and community volunteers dispatched to seven area Walmart and Sam’s Club stores to educate consumers about the unfair practices in the plants and the unsafe, unsanitary conditions on the farms that supply Darigold milk. “The farmworkers are treated terribly and the company uses strong-arm tactics to try to intimidate its employees,” Jensen said.
Teamsters Local 117 has filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that Darigold violated federal labor law by engaging in illegal surveillance of its workers and unilaterally changing working conditions. Darigold is also accused of failing to provide information about reportedly massive bonuses doled out to managers during bargaining.
“Darigold has established a pattern of bad-faith bargaining, violating its employees’ rights, and opposing efforts to improve farmworker safety,” said John Scearcy, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 117. “When Darigold intimidates workers and turns a blind eye to poor working conditions and abhorrent practices on the farms, it jeopardizes food safety.”
In 2003, Darigold locked out its employees for nine months, which set off a boycott of Darigold products in the stores. Three years ago, the union accused Darigold of violating federal law during contract negotiations, alleging that Darigold unlawfully fired union supporters. Last year, a dairy worker on a farm that supplies Darigold’s milk drowned in an unmarked manure pit.
The 220 Teamsters at Darigold’s Seattle and Issaquah facilities have been working without a contract since May 31. The union and the company have agreed to meet again on Tuesday, July 12.
“I’d like to see Darigold come to the table with a reasonable contract offer that we can all live with,” Jensen said. “We want to keep the company profitable, but we also want to make sure that our rights are protected and that the conditions on the farms and in the plants are humane.”
Darigold is owned by over 500 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 other grocery stores throughout the Pacific Northwest.