DANVILLE — More than 240 union employees at the Viscofan plant in Danville officially went on strike at 5 a.m. Friday, with many walking off the job and picketing in front of the Michigan Avenue facility in opposition to the company's current contract proposal.
About 130 members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 686 walked the picket line most of the morning, protesting a proposed freeze to their wages in the first year of the contract as well as mandatory short-notice overtime that they say would take them away from their families and community obligations at a moment's notice.
The picket continued throughout the day, and David Dubois, secretary and treasurer of Local 686, said workers are prepared to man it in shifts around the clock until the company offers a better contract.
According to the union, the company's latest proposal also includes additional mandated on-call time for maintenance workers and new drug testing rules.
The workers have been in contract negotiations since January with Viscofan, which owns the meat-casings production facility that was formerly Teepak. The Viscofan Group, a global company headquartered in Spain, bought Teepak's North American facilities, including the Danville plant, in 2006.
In a statement emailed to News-Gazette Media on Friday, Viscofan Vice President for Human Resources Kevin Dawson said the union and company are in the process of negotiating a new three-year labor agreement, which includes wage increases, a plant efficiency plan that pays a monthly performance bonus, and a signing bonus of $1,000 upon ratification of the deal.
"The company believes that it has made a fair and reasonable offer," Dawson said. "We are disappointed that the offer was rejected by the union. We hope that this labor dispute will be short-lived. Meanwhile, the company has implemented its contingency plan to keep servicing the market."
Dubois, who was walking the picket line Friday night, said the previous contract expired April 1, and the union signed an extension through the end of May, but the company no longer wanted to offer an extension, so union workers recently voted to strike.
Dubois said the last proposal from the company was for three years with no wage increase the first year, a 25-cent-per-hour increase the second and another 25 cents the third.
In regard to overtime, Dubois said the company wants workers to put in more hours per week, before their shifts and after shifts, and some positions, like maintenance, to be on call on weekends with the right to call them into the plant at any time. The company is also calling for new, random drug testing that the union maintains is "intrusive."
Dubois said currently, the company can drug test only under reasonable suspicion.
Dubois said there are three shifts at the plant, which runs around the clock 365 days a year, and workers feel the company takes enough of their time.
"They want more and more hours out of us," he said. "This is a billion-dollar company, and they want to throw chump change at us."
Local 686 President Tim Miller said in an announcement Friday that the men and women of Viscofan work hard to produce the high-quality products that have made the company successful.
"They have earned and deserve the better wages they need to support their families," he said. "When a company like Viscofan succeeds, its workers and the communities they serve should succeed as well."
Viscofan generated nearly $2 billion in revenue last year, and according to union officials, the company attributed most of that success to the strong performance of their operations in North and South America, "anchored by the hard work of the men and women of the plant in Danville."