Ingredion officials brought half a dozen armed guards to negotiations with unarmed workers in what union officials called “despicable” and “a clear attempt to silence and intimidate union members.”
However, it appears it was the hotel revoking conference rooms that ultimately caused negotiations to break down this week.
Catch me up
Around 122 Ingredion workers in Cedar Rapids affiliated with the workers’ union—Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco and Grain Millers Local 100-G—have been on strike since Aug. 1.
But negotiations have also been slow in coming.
BCTGM Local 100-G President Mike Moore said the two sides haven’t formally sat down in three weeks. So this week’s scheduled negotiations over two days on Tuesday and Wednesday promised to finally, perhaps, move the needle.
Moore said he and 100-G’s negotiating committee, which included an international representative with BCTGM, arrived at Hotel Kirkwood on Tuesday morning and saw company managers and executives accompanied by six security guards with holstered firearms.
An Ingredion spokesperson said the armed guards were “necessary” because of unspecified “repeated threats.”
Though Kirkwood Community College and its campus buildings, including Hotel Kirkwood, have a no-firearms policy, a Kirkwood spokesperson said Ingredion’s guards had been approved beforehand as an exception to that policy.
Nevertheless, the armed guards immediately set the tone that negotiations might be less than friendly, Moore said.
“I expressed my concerns: We’re here to negotiate in good faith, and the company’s bringing armed guards? … It’s intimidation and a lack of respect on the company’s part,” Moore said.
Iowa Federation of Labor president Charlie Wishman went further in an email this week.
“The intent was clear in the actions of the company: They were trying to terrorize or possibly even send a message they intend to harm people who are looking to discuss issues in their workplace and end a labor stoppage,” Wishman said.
Moore said he asked officials who was making the threats, “because if it’s anybody I represent … I will deal with that, because I do not condone that.” But he said officials didn’t tell him.
Asked about the sources or nature of the threats, the Ingredion spokesperson said the company had received “repeated threats … approximately 100 incidents” since the strike began, but was “conducting ongoing investigations related to these incidents and are unable to further elaborate.”
Despite their reservations about the armed guards, Moore and the BCTGM negotiating committee agreed to continue negotiations.
But a manager at Hotel Kirkwood stopped them.
“Hotel management came in and said it was too much of a fiasco for them; there were too many things going on,” Moore said. The reservations BCTGM and Ingredion had made for the conference and hotel rooms for both days were immediately “terminated,” he said the hotel manager told them.
Moore said he thought it may have had something to do with a handful of picketers supportive of the strike who were standing close to the hotel in their distinctive red shirts. But the Kirkwood spokesperson said the hotel’s general manager canceled the reservation after “one of the parties” said they “did not feel safe because of the armed guards present.”
“Once one of the parties indicated they did not feel safe, our GM made the decision to cancel the Tuesday meeting,” with Wednesday’s reservation “canceled as a result of Ingredion saying the space was not needed that day.”
Where do negotiations stand?
Losing their negotiating venue may prolong the strike. But both sides say they’re still trying to make talks happen.
The city of Cedar Rapids has offered the police department, the public library and even City Hall as places to hold talks. But Moore said Ingredion told him “they would not negotiate in person anymore, that everything would have to be done virtual.”
“We feel, as a (bargaining) committee, being face-to-face and trying to work out our differences is a lot more productive,” he said.
Nevertheless, Moore said he had told company officials they were willing to try a virtual meeting, which he said could happen Friday.
“We’re trying to be the good guys,” he said. “We will try it once.”
Ingredion’s spokesperson said Wednesday they were also working to meet Friday, and were “working on setting up a meeting.”
Moore said, given the company’s behavior so far, he wasn’t quite so certain.
“The way things went yesterday, it was telling me they weren’t ready to negotiate,” he said. “To me, it’s a lack of respect, a lack of trust.”
This story was updated Sept. 21 to reflect updated statements from both Ingredion and Kirkwood Community College.
By Amie Rivers
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