Workers at Ralston Foods voted unanimously on January 23 to affiliate their independent union with UE. The vote was 140-0. Just a month earlier, these same workers had voted in an National Labor Relations Board election to leave a do-nothing union that had represented them poorly, and in which they did not have their own local union. By a better than 90 percent margin in the December 19 vote, more than 200 members opted to form the Independent Food Operators. There are 230 members in the new bargaining unit – they produce breakfast cereals.
Some of the issues that motivated Ralston workers to form an independent local, and then take their local into UE, were a lack of support and steward training from their previous national union. Lacking a local union organization and treasury under their own control, the Ralston workers had no ability to use their own dues money for such simple needs as renting a hall to hold a meeting. Officials of their old union were unresponsive – often taking several days to return phone calls – and constantly told members that there was nothing they could do about shop problems.
Discipline in the plant is very severe – a worker can receive a final written warning for his or her first production error, and be fired for the second incident. Workers are frequently forced to work overtime in four-hour stints before or after their regular shifts. The company violates workers’ rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act. These are some of the problems members hope to address by becoming part of UE.
Since constituting themselves as an independent union, Ralston workers have received help from UE staff on grievances and organizational issues. Workers came out for a meeting on January 9 at which UE Director of Organization Bob Kingsley congratulated them for declaring their independence, and told them more about UE. “We are a union that knows something is very wrong when the boss gets away with unfair discipline, when the boss saddles you with forced overtime or when the boss denies you your dignity – and we are a union willing to help you fight to right these wrongs.”
Ralston workers also attended an Open House on January 16, where they met members and leaders of UE Locals 506, 618, 684, 712, 741 and 766, as well as Eastern Region Pres. Andrew Dinkelaker. The UE members described how their UE locals operate under rank-and-file principles, and the help they receive from the UE national union.
These new UE members have chose 777 as their local number. There will be more on their progress in future issues of the UE NEWS.