Holton Meats employees go on strike, picket around the clock
Monique Akins wants to spend time with her grandchildren, but the Saturday shifts she works during the Holten Meat busy season make that difficult.
“It’s just taking my day from me. Those eight hours a day, I would be tired,” the East St. Louis resident said. “I would like to do household work on Saturday, go to church on Sundays, and have time for ourselves.”
She said she wants to attend her grandchildren’s activities.
“They’re just taking it away from us,” Akins said.
Akins was among the 200 to 225 unionized workers at a local meat manufacturing and distribution company, which makes hamburger patties, who went on strike Saturday after they rejected a contract proposal from the company.
More than 60 members of United Food Commercial Workers Local 655 picketed Monday outside the Holten Meat facility, union Director of Collective Bargaining Garry Torpea said in a news release. Torpea said the picketing would continue 24 hours a day.
“To emphasize how strongly our members feel about this, we are instituting around-the-clock picketing,” Torpea said in a written statement.
Union members rejected the company’s second contract proposal by a 75 percent margin on Saturday and authorized an immediate strike.
A statement from the company said leaders respect “the right of our employees to decide whether to continue to work or to withhold their services to the company,” though they added the company is “disappointed” the union rejected what leaders “believe to be a fair contract offer that would significantly benefit all of our plant employees.”
The company’s statement said its proposal “contained substantial economic and non-economic benefits that if accepted would improve our employees’ lives.”
Union officials said more than 75 percent voted in favor of striking.
Their primary concern, Torpea said, is the company’s policy of hiring new workers when a day shift becomes available, rather than giving the day shift to a current employee.
“Holten often hires new workers for the day jobs ignoring more veteran workers who can do the work,” union President David Cook said in the release.
Levi Eddins, a union representative who was with the workers Monday, said employees are working Saturday shift for regular pay, but want it to be overtime pay. In exchange for the Saturday shift during the busy season, the workers do receive a weekday off, however that day off changes from week to week.
“It has a lot to do with respect,” Eddins said. “The management team talks to people very disrespectfully.”
On Saturday it’s more expensive for employees with young children to be able to find someone to watch their kids.
“It costs our members additional money for day care,” Eddins said.
Peggie Romeo, of Cahokia, has been employed at Holten for 19 years, and works in quality control from 2:25 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Romeo said that during the last couple of years, workers have been given a day off during the week, in order to work Saturday, instead of being paid overtime, “instead of letting us benefit from, what they’re benefiting from.”
Eddins also said people have to use vacation time when they’re sick.
He said employees would like to be able to take time off when ill, but there is a point system, and unless the time off falls under the Family Medical Leave Act, employees get tagged with a point.
The company said production will continue despite the strike.
“We will strive to resolve this matter in a timely and sincere manner while continuing to deliver the service that our customers expect and deserve. We look forward to union members returning to work following a peaceful resolution of this dispute,” the statement said.
Holten Meat manufactures and distributes processed meat items to food industry retailers and providers nationwide. The company employs more than 300 people, according to its website.