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Calexico discusses rumors, threats at tissue plant

January 03, 2001|By RICHARD MONTENEGRO, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — For some weeks employees with Calexico Tissue Co. have alleged a hostile work environment created by company officials, including threats that if workers unionize Calexico Tissue will move operations out of Imperial County.

A local union boss and several Calexico Tissue employees brought their concerns before the council last week because, as one unidentified paper company employee said in Calexico City Hall on Tuesday, the city recently gave the company a substantial loan to expand its operations.

While the city has little jurisdiction in terms of how Calexico Tissue treats its workers, city officials said they do have some pull because of more than $600,000 in Redevelopment Agency loans made to the company.

The City Council, seated as the Redevelopment Agency board, addressed the issue at Tuesday's special RDA meeting.

Calexico City Councilman Gilbert Grijalva and City Manager Rich Inman had a telephone conference with an American Tissue Co. senior vice president, Shahram Roozrokh, to address concerns at the Calexico plant.


Grijalva said the conference was to ensure employees were being treated in a fair manner as well as address rumors surrounding the plant. One such rumor involves the closure of the plant in the event it unionizes.

Grijalva said Roozrokh said there is no intention to close the plant and any such decision would be entirely economic.

"(Roozrokh) said he doesn't like unions, but there are plants, like three or four of them, in the organizational structure that are unionized" and still profitable, Grijalva said. "His basic concern is that the facility is producing at its top level."

Calexico City Councilman Victor Carrillo asked Grijalva if Roozrokh addressed complaints of threats and intimidation of Calexico Tissue workers at the hands of their supervisors.

"I mentioned that to him and he got irritated," Grijalva said, adding Roozrokh wanted to know what business that was of the City Council.

"I reminded him we represent the voters," Grijalva said. "He sort of changed his tune. He said there's been managerial problems at the plant, that it's an ongoing problem."

Grijalva said Roozrokh will visit the Calexico plant in a few weeks, at which time he said he would take the council on a tour of the plant and further discuss the city's concerns.

Daniel Acuña, head of the local Teamsters branch, said both he and employees of Calexico Tissue appreciate the council's intervention in the matter.

He added an election determining whether there is support by Calexico Tissue employees to go union will occur as planned.

"As long as (plant managers) don't intimidate the people" everything will be fine, Acuña said. "It's been addressed and hopefully it's taken care of."

One Calexico Tissue employee at Tuesday's City Council meeting said she does not think the intimidation has stopped or will stop.

"I strongly believe the threats and intimidation have not stopped," said the unidentified woman. "I don't think it's going to stop."

She added, "I strongly ask the council to investigate. This must stop."

Carrillo said the council does not have the legal ability to do so.

Calexico City Attorney Mike Rood agreed, adding the city cannot get involved in labor issues between the company and its workers.

"We need to stay out of telling them how to run their business and labor negotiation," Rood said.

He recommended the council direct staff to write a strongly worded letter to American Tissue officials asking they adhere to the tenets of the RDA loan issued to the company and ensure a large number of employees are from Calexico.

Workers claim Calexico Tissue employees are mostly Mexicali residents.

Calexico Tissue officials were not present at Tuesday's meeting.

Staff Writer Richard Montenegro can be reached at 337-3453.

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