After months of negotiating over their contract, workers at an eastern Iowa manufacturing plant are on strike until a deal is struck.
Ingredion workers affiliated with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco, and Grain Milling union, or BCTGM Local 100-G in Cedar Rapids, took a contract vote at 9 a.m. Monday that all 116 voting members voted down, according to local president Mike Moore. (There were 122 total workers in the union, Moore said.)
Nearly all of the workers—114 of them—then voted to strike, said Moore, a mobile supply operator with Ingredion who has worked there for 35 years. The contract and strike votes come after two months of negotiating with Ingredion executives.
Ryan Hocke, an Ingredion operator who has been with the company for 11 years, was one of several holding the line outside Ingredion on an extremely hot Tuesday. He said he believes around 60-some nonunion office personnel remained on the job, but says Ingredion was not ready to make a deal.
“They brought in busloads of people from offsite” early Monday morning before the strike was even voted on, Hocke said. “I think their plan is to train people to do our work, and they probably won’t be able to do it. … It takes a long time to learn.”
Moore said the company wants to eliminate five test lab positions, increase workers’ insurance rates without corresponding wage increases to cover it, won’t move eligible Tier 2 workers up to Tier 1 pay, change the way vacation and overtime is scheduled, and not allow the union to have a say in management changes.
Moore said last week the union agreed to remove a cost-of-living clause that was in their previous contract to try and reach an agreement, but it didn’t lead to one.
“I don’t expect this week and next week they’ll contact me, but I’m hoping after that they’ll contact me,” Moore said Tuesday. “The union is open to sitting down and starting negotiations again.”
Jeff Blacek, a maintenance mechanic who has been with the company for 32 years, said workers weren’t even asking for gains. They just didn’t want to take a loss.
“I would really love for them to go with our contract that we have today,” Blacek said. “Basically, what they’re trying to throw at us is someone else’s contract. … Our committee has asked them, ‘What’s wrong with the contract we have today?’ And they cannot answer.”
Ingredion, headquartered in Illinois with locations in 26 countries, makes “sweeteners, starches, nutrition ingredients and biomaterials” for use in “everyday products from foods and beverages to paper and pharmaceuticals,” the company says on its website.
It has one location in Iowa, the Cedar Rapids manufacturing plant at 1001 First St. SW.
Ingredion saw sales grow 17% and its income grew 6% in the first quarter of 2022 as compared to 2021, the company said. Its next financial report was due to come out next week.
“Our goal has always been to provide our team members with very competitive wages and a comprehensive benefits package,” the company said in a statement to media outlets. “While our team assumes operations of the Cedar Rapids facility, there may be temporary facility stoppages. We have enacted our business continuity plan and we will continue to operate the facility and fulfill our customers’ orders.”
Workers are picketing in shifts at the plant, and a “major rally” is planned for 4 p.m. this Friday, Moore said. Those who wish to support can stop by and picket, bring supplies such as water, ice, or snacks, or donate to a strike fund set up by the local union, which Hocke is organizing.
The last strike, in 2004 when the company was called Penford, lasted for 78 days.
“The second we were granted unemployment, things turned and they decided to hit the tables again and talk,” said Blacek. But he wasn’t optimistic this strike would end quickly, either: “Just with what they’ve presented us this time was even worse than in ’04.”
Moore was there for the last strike as well, but said he held out hope.
“I know it took a lot of time … to get a contract,” Moore said of 2004. “But we got a decent contract, and that’s all we’re asking for is a decent contract.”
By Amie Rivers
Have a story idea for me? Email amie at iowastartingline.com. I’m also available by text, WhatsApp and Signal at (319) 239-0350, or find me on Twitter, TikTok, Instagram and Facebook.
Iowa Starting Line is part of an independent news network and focuses on how state and national decisions impact Iowans’ daily lives. We rely on your financial support to keep our stories free for all to read. You can contribute to us here. Follow us on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.