Update | Mott’s Strike Settled: Workers Returning to Apple Sauce Factory

BY Paul Solman  September 14, 2010 at 4:13 PM EDT

Making Sense with Paul SolmanThere was considerable viewer interest in last week’s story on increased U.S. productivity being caused by a reservoir of unemployed workers, allowing firms to pressure workers to toil longer and harder for the same or lower wages. Our case study was a Mott’s apple sauce factory near Rochester, N.Y., where management had imposed a wage cut, despite the profitability of the plant and parent company. The union retaliated by striking in May.

On Monday, the strike was settled and workers will be back next Monday. According to Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times:

In the three-year deal, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union persuaded the company to drop its demand to freeze pensions for current workers, although newly hired workers will not have pensions, but 401(k) plans….

Under the agreement, Dr Pepper Snapple, which also markets 7Up, Hawaiian Punch and Canada Dry, will save money on its retirement plans. While the company dropped its proposal to freeze pensions for current workers, the union in exchange agreed to lower the dollar-for-dollar match for current workers’ 401(k)s to the first 2 percent of pay from the originally proposed first 4 percent. Before the strike, the match was for the first 5 percent of pay. For newly hired workers, the company will match the first 4 percent of their pay.

The deal calls for a $1,000 signing bonus and for the company to absorb 80 percent of health-care costs and the workers 20 percent.

This is pretty much the deal the company first offered, with the exception of lifting the “freeze” on (i.e., not killing) company-provided pensions.

Quoth the union:

“Not a day went by without people stopping by to drop off a financial or food donation for the strike fund. The International, National and local community supported us thoroughly, and the RWDSU and Local 220 members want to share their thanks,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the RWDSU.

“The RWDSU members at Mott’s have a message for working people everywhere: Stand up for what you believe in, and stay united.”

Off-the-record, several employees shared their thoughts with the NewsHour:

“It’s really still divided even though it’s ratified. People weren’t happy about it…
I’m just glad it’s over. Strike isn’t pretty and it goes way beyond financial when I say strike’s not pretty.There’s a lot of ugly that you wouldn’t understand until you actually have to do it….Never want to relive it again. I’m happy to have a job.”

“It’s scary not knowing whether or not you have a job when it’s all said and done and we do have fairly good-paying jobs. There’s half of America sitting there saying,
‘What’s wrong with these people? How could you walk away from these jobs? It’s so arrogant.’”

“I’m just happy to have a job.”

Another worker, also satisfied with the settlement, on whether or not the strike was “scary”:

“Oh no. We only had 10 people cross [the picket line]. This was a new experience for everybody. We got a lot stronger as a union. We went on strike together and once we were voted back in we are going back together. I got to know a lot more people that I might not have.”

Meanwhile, speaking for the company, Corporate Affairs Manager Chris Barnes:

“The National Labor Relations Board has affirmed that the company bargained in good faith. We sought an agreement that supported our business and we’re very pleased that it’s been resolved. It’ll make the plant more competitive and flexible by bringing costs into line and it’s an important step in insuring the growth and leadership of the Mott’s brand.”

I asked him: what’s going to happen to the replacement workers?

“They’ve done a remarkable job ramping up our operations in Williamson. As the union employees return to work, the temporary help will be phased out. We’ll continue to use temps on an as-needed basis, as we do at other facilities.”

Does the company feel bad for them?

“We’re very thankful for them and their contribution. They were very professional.”

The NewsHour is trying to reach some of the replacement workers to get their perspectives.

One more piece of evidence that the fear of unemployment is keeping wages down, “A lot of people felt we were about to lose our jobs,” said Bruce Beal, recording secretary for Local 220 of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, according to RocNow, published by the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

This entry is cross-posted on Paul Solman’s Making Sen$e site.