Hormel contract offer “simply not good enough” for plant workers

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(ABC 6 News) – Hormel plant workers in Austin voted to reject the company’s final offer in union contract negotiations.

They say Hormel needs to do better.

Workers are rejecting the deal because they don’t think it’s enough, considering Hormel’s record profits. Union members say the deal “simply isn’t good enough” in terms of pay and benefits. They won’t stop negotiations until Hormel gives them an offer they think is fair.

The Hormel Foods plant in Austin employs over 1,700 UFCW Local 663 members. After weeks of negotiation, the contract between the workers union and Hormel expired on Sunday. Union members voted Wednesday and Thursday on whether to accept Hormel’s final offer.

One of these union members is Mike Whalen. He’s worked at Hormel for 21 years and has been through a few contract negotiations with the company.

“They’ve always been kinda tight, but this is a pretty good one what they’ve offered, but they could do better on their pension, seems like they always say there’s a lot of money in the pension, and kick up the wages a little bit for the next four years,” said Whalen.

That’s why he took the union’s advice and voted against Hormel’s offer.

According to the UFCW, Hormel’s gross profits reached over $2 billion in the last year, and they think that money should be shared fairly with the workers who keep things running. Some community members in Austin are concerned about the possibility of a strike if Hormel and their workers are not able to reach a deal.

Kyle Fett owns a game store in downtown Austin and a lot of his customers are Hormel workers.

“The few whispers I’ve heard is they’re kinda hoping it just gets settled and over with, cause I don’t think anybody wants to go through the same thing that happened in the 80s,” said Fett.

Fett’s father was a plant worker who participated in the strike against Hormel in the mid-80s after his wages were cut, and never went back after the plant re-opened.

Labor historian Peter Rachleff said that the strike started because of major safety concerns when the new plant opened in 1982, along with workers being asked to take a 23% pay cut as they were coming out of a ten-year freeze on wage increases.

Rachleff is happy to see today’s workers standing up for themselves.

“More workers who have been through that experience of the pandemic now want to be compensated as if they are essential,” said Rachleff.

However, Fett worries about how the possibility of another strike might impact his business.

“My whole demographic is disposable income, so if there’s a strike, I mean a lot of those guys lose their income, at least temporarily, so I’ll for sure see an impact and I think a lot of downtown will too,” said Fett.

Negotiations between the parties will continue as UFCW continues to demand a fair agreement.

“I think Hormel’s gonna come and they’re gonna meet under good understandings, make things work,” said Whalen.

Hormel released a statement saying in part:

“We are disappointed in the vote, especially given the significant contract package offered, however, we remain optimistic we will reach an agreement.”

As negotiations carry on, the contract has been extended through October 8th.