Strike, lockout possibilities for Darigold workers



SEATTLE - Workers at Darigold have worked without a contract since June 1.

The workers staged an informational picket line a couple of weeks ago with signs that read "just practicing." Now the members of Teamster Local 117 believe their company has set the stage for a lockout or strike. 

The union claims last Monday, one of Darigold's senior vice presidents walked out of a bargaining session with a federal mediator. 

A Teamster shop steward, Jeff Koch, said it was frustrating. He said, "At this point, I feel more disrespected that they won't sit at the table and talk with us." 

The company's general counsel, Steve Rowe said, "We didn't walk out of negotiations." He added that, "No one has stopped talking to each other."

But clearly there's tension between Darigold and 220 workers who produce milk in Seattle, along with butter, sour cream and cottage cheese in Issaquah. Many remember a lockout at Darigold a decade ago that lasted nine months. Koch said, "Marriages broke up because of the financial strain, people lost houses, people lost cars. It was a real, real difficult time for a lot of people." 

Health care is a big issue in the negotiations. Right now the Teamsters pay just 5 percent of their health insurance premiums. Darigold wants them to pay 10 percent. Why such a big deal we asked, when many workers in the region pay for at least 10 percent of their premiums? Tracey Thompson, the secretary-teasurer of Teamster Local 117, said, "Everybody should have health care that is paid for by the employers and those who are paying more than 10 percent, more than 5 percent, shouldn't be. We're fighting the fight for everybody." 

The Teamsters said Darigold has proposed wage increases of just 45 cents an hour in each of the next three years and that won't nearly cover the extra health care costs. 

Steve Rowe from Darigold said, "We think we have provided at this stage, a very fair contract offer." He also said all of the company's nonunion employees already pay more than 10 percent of their health insurance premiums. Rowe said, "That's why we're saying this is fair."