Michael Hiltzik: At a subsidiary of a $4 billion corporation, these low-wage workers are striking for better pay

Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

The company added that as several claims and counterclaims between the company and the union are before the National Labor Relations Board, "public officials should not therefore be taking a side." (The NLRB, however, is a federal agency, not a county-level body.)

The Donaire strike is also starting to receive national attention. Sens. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). along with five other Democratic senators, wrote Tuesday to Bob Rich Jr., chairman of family-owned Rich Products, expressing their support for the strikers.

The senators urged Rich to "reach an agreement as soon as possible on a contract that is fair and that includes good wages, decent benefits, reliable schedules and safe working conditions." The workers' goals, they wrote, are "not radical."

The company is plainly aware that it's being painted as a heartless monolith in the labor dispute.

"There is a very popular narrative that is trying to make corporations that have created lots of jobs the bad guy in a negotiation," says Ed Moore, Rich's chief human resources officer.

Moore says the Donaire strike is the first in the company's 77-year history, which the company argues shows that its employment practices are fair. More than 50 union members have crossed the picket line, as have Teamsters who perform equipment maintenance on overnight shifts.


"We've worked hard to create ... a steadfast commitment to treating our associates, customers and communities the same way — like family," Jonathan A. Dandes, Rich's government affairs officer, told the supervisors in the company's letter.

That said, Rich Products has taken a firmly utilitarian approach to the wage issue at Donaire.

The Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, which represents the Donaire workers, has noted that employees at a Rich plant in Murfreesboro, Tenn., earn an average $6 an hour more than those at Donaire, even though the cost of living is higher in Southern California.

"The way we determine wage rates is to look at the local labor market and make an assessment of what we need to pay to be able to attract and retain quality associates," Moore told me.


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