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Union officials eye beef facility

May 07, 2002|By DARREN SIMON

Staff Writer

BRAWLEY — Labor issues may be brewing at the beef-processing plant here as two unions have joined forces to explore unionizing employees at the facility.

Organizers from the Teamsters Local 542 and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 135 said Monday they have been in contact with beef plant workers.

Both union locals represent the San Diego and Imperial County areas.

Matt Bell, a director for organizing for the meat cutters and manufacturing side of the UFCW, said some employees have voiced concerns over working conditions but he declined to name any specific concerns.

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Instead, he said the unions are at the stage of gathering information regarding working conditions.

Phil Farias, a Teamsters organizer based in San Diego, confirmed the Teamsters are working with the UFCW on the possibility of forming a union at Brawley Beef, which has about 600 full-time employees.

Like Bell, Farias declined to speak in detail about working conditions or how the unions are moving forward with efforts to unionize the plant workers.

A week ago a group of about 20 people — all thought to be plant workers — gathered at the front gates of the plant, reportedly to voice concerns.

Brawley Police Chief Henry Graham said his department received a call from security officers at the plant and police officers responded to the scene.

Graham pointed out that when officers arrived there were two union representatives who spoke to the workers. The scene was dispersed without any conflict.

Farias and Bell said neither union had any connection with the gathering last week, adding there have been no steps taken to form a union at the beef plant.

However, Bell said he and another UFCW representative told the workers the gathering outside the plant gates was not the proper way to handle their labor concerns.

Bell said he informed the employees the company could replace them if they did not go back to work. Bell added the goal is not to create a confrontational situation with the owners of Brawley Beef.

"The UFCW works well with our employers," he said.

Brawley Beef officials were unavailable for comment Monday and this morning.

Greg Beck, chief operating officer and president of the company, has said the goal is to train employees so their duties and pay can increase. He also has said it is important to create a team atmosphere to ensure the plant succeeds.

Brawley Beef has been in operation since December and it has ramped up the number of employees to about 600, and officials say if the plant succeeds, it could add a second shift and create another 600 jobs.

During a recent tour of the beef plant, a reporter interviewed some employees.

Those employees said they worked eight- to 10-hour days, and added the work can be tiring, but they said they were pleased to have full-time work and benefits.

Most interviewed said they had worked part-time or had jobs that required them to work in the fields and follow crops between the Imperial Valley and Salinas.

Bell said in his own conversations with employees wage and benefits have not "necessarily" been the issues of concern.

He said concern has concentrated mostly on "peripheral" matters. Again, Bell said he did not want to comment on such issues until more details are gathered.

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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