By Mark Friedman
SANTA FE SPRINGS, California, January 15, 2022—Since November 3, nearly 175 workers, primarily Latinas, have been on strike against the Rich Products Corporation, a large transnational frozen foods company. The Jon Donaire Deserts plant here makes ice cream cakes that are widely distributed, including at stores like Baskin Robbins, Cold Stone, Walmart, and Von. In total, the company employs about 11,000 people.
The workers are on strike demanding higher wages and improved health care from a company that had $4 billion in revenue in 2021, and whose owner, Bob Rich Jr., is valued at nearly $7.5 billion according to bloomberg.com
The average workers’ wage here—about 15 miles from downtown Los Angeles—is under $17 an hour, while employees at the company’s Murphysburg, Tennessee plant average $23 an hour in a right-to-work state with far lower living costs than California.
Nate Zeff, international representative of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) Local 37, spoke to this reporter and discussed the issues in the strike.
“Workers are asking for one dollar per hour each year for a three-year contract, but the company offers only $0.50 the first year and $0.55 the second and third year. There is no cost-of-living allowance, while inflation has begun to rage across the country. The difference between the wages the workers are asking for and what the company wants to give them only amounts to about $160,000 per year for the entire plant,” Zeff explained.
“From our perspective,” he continued, “this is not about money, because they can certainly afford it, but it is about Latina women, averaging 40 to 60 years old, standing up for themselves.
“In denying the demand for increased salaries, the company proposed adopting a worse health care plan to save money to pay for wage increases. The negotiating committee rejected this almost unanimously.”
Workers have been subsisting on $185 a week strike benefits plus food and gift cards from the Los Angeles Federation of Labor. California State Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn, and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders have all publicly expressed support for the strikers.
Sanders said the company offer was “pathetic,” considering the monetary gap between its billionaire owner and employee wages. He added that Bob Rich, the company’s majority owner, gained more than $2 billion in wealth during the pandemic.
Cristina Lujan, a striker and spokesperson for the plant’s union members, said that she “went on strike because of wages. After 19 years, I only make $16.98 an hour. We are also faced with speed up on the job and forced overtime. We attempt to follow safety measures, but we cannot [do that] and keep up with production quotas demanded by management. Many of us are injured on the job and suffer from carpal tunnel, shoulder, and back injuries.”
Lujan continued: “During the past year with Covid, conditions in the plant have been especially hard as more than half got sick with the virus and were repeatedly called at home by human resources and pressured to come back in. Those of us still working were forced to make up for the worker shortage.”
Lujan and other strikers are very positive about the unity they have achieved during the walkout, and the solidarity, publicity, and financial support they are receiving to help people pay for rent and mortgages as well as put food on the table.
Those wishing to contribute to the strikers’ solidarity fund can go to this gofundme link.
For more information see the strike’s Facebook page.
The union also welcomes solidarity on its picket line, which is up 24/7, at: 12805 Busch Pl., Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670.
Categories: Labor Movement / Trade Unions