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American Licorice Strike Grows With Political, Labor Support

Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski and representatives from Sen. Ellen Corbett and Sup. Nadya Locker’s offices joined the Alameda Labor Council at a rally on Wednesday at the American Licorice Company in Union City.

As employees strike into the holidays in protest of what they say are unfair health benefits, local politicians and Bay Area labor groups are urging the company to negotiate with its workers.

Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski and representatives from Senator Ellen Corbett and Supervisor Nadia Locker’s offices joined the Alameda Labor Council at a rally on Wednesday afternoon at the American Licorice Company’s factory in Union City.

“Healthcare benefits are not a luxury, healthcare is a necessity of life,” said Wieckowski to the more than 100 employees picketing during the rally.

“The termination of contract negotiations is a shame,” he added. “You want to remain at the table. That technique of ‘We’re not talking to anyone’ is never a good idea.”

Wieckowski urged American Licorice to respect the contributions of its employees.

“You guys represent part of the backbone of Union City and the 20th Assembly District,” he said.

All 178 employees at the Union City factory went . Only one employee has since crossed the line to join temp workers at the factory, according to Rene Castillo, vice president of the Bakery Workers Union Local 125, which represents American Licorice’s employees.

The protest began after dissatisfaction with the company’s final contract offer to its employees, which includes increased health coverage fees for employees.

According to Castillo, the proposed health care plan would require employees to pay both deductibles and a percentage of their premiums. American Licorice officials, however, remain adamant that their offer to employees is an improvement, pointing to continued company-paid health insurance, hourly wage increases and an improved retirement benefit.

According to company spokesman Michael Kelly, American Licorice is offering to continue to pay all premiums for its employees and dependents, as well as pay the entirety of the proposed $3,000 family and $1,500 individual health insurance deductibles in 2012, and to pay for half of the deductibles in 2013 and 2014. (.)

On Wednesday, Kelly said the company continues to stand by its final proposal and that the company hopes its employees will take the offer and return to work.

But the workers’ fight seems to be getting stronger with increased support from the community.

“This is an attack on working people,” said John Gallagher, a teacher at Forest Park Elementary School in Fremont, during the Wednesday rally. “Your guys’ fight is our fight. Keep your courage. You will encourage others to fight.”

The rally was led by the Alameda Labor Council, an umbrella organization that represents more than 100,000 workers from 120 affiliated unions.

“We really want to see American Licorice continue to thrive,” said Josie Camacho, secretary-treasurer for the council. “The best way to do that is to get back to the table.”

Mona Barra-Gibson, district director for Senator Ellen Corbett, expressed support on behalf on Corbett’s office.

“We’re here to stand with you and the rights you have as workers,” Barra-Gibson said. “We’re asking that you get the healthcare that you deserve.”

Others at the rally included Abel Guillen, a member of the Peralta Community Colleges Board of Trustees and a candidate for the 18th Assembly District, and members from local electrical workers, postal workers and transit workers unions.

The labor and political leaders were also joined by the factory workers’ children, who chanted “Si se puede!” and wrote letters to Santa. The letters, which will be delivered to the company, included messages such as “Dear Santa, I want my mom to go back to work,” and “Dear Santa, I want medical care.”

After the rally, several of the speakers, including Camacho, Guillen and Lockyer’s representative Ginny Demartini, attempted to speak with a manager at the facility but were told there were no comments at the time and were rushed off of the property by security, who threatened to call police despite the peaceful nature of the rally.

Morale Still Strong

Now on its 17th consecutive day on strike, the factory workers still refuse to budge.

According to Castillo, the workers were asked by Union City police to tear down their makeshift outdoor kitchen area, which violated safety codes and blocked a red zone, as well as remove a Christmas tree that police said was blocking access to a wheelchair accessible ramp.

As a workaround, a fellow bakery union member from Annabelle’s in Hayward donated his RV so that the employees could have somewhere to cook. They also put a tall plywood board with a Christmas tree painted on it to take place of the real tree.

Protesters were also asked to remove any signage asking vehicles to honk as they pass.

According to Lt. Ben Horner of the Union City Police Department, the agency has received a number of noise complaints from residents in the area who say protesters have sounded an airhorn at night and that large trucks are honking at all hours to cheer on the workers. The police have since started issuing citations for those disturbing the peace.

“Many of the folks that live in those areas have called and said, ‘We can’t take this anymore. We can’t sleep,’” Horner said.

“The department tries to maintain a neutral stance in these labor situations. We don’t want to interfere in any peaceful activities,” Horner said. “But we’re trying to balance the needs of the workers and the residents.”

Castillo believes some of the pressure on the city is coming the licorice company.

“Management is trying to break our morale, but we’re sticking together,” Castillo said. “We’re going to be here no matter what it takes.”

Workers will continue to strike over the holiday weekend, though many will be taking time away from the picket line on Saturday and Sunday nights.

According to Jose Zavala, a strike shift leader, all employees will join together at noon on Saturday for a Christmas meal.

Pedro Duran, an employee of the company for 29 years who has three children and three grandchildren, said it’s particularly tough to strike during the holidays, but that it's necessary for them to continue.

“I wish to be with my family like everyone else, but it’s very important for us to be here,” Duran said.

Tim December 23, 2011 at 12:08 AM
Yea, Occupy American Licorice! I want my free healthcare even if it bankrupts the company.
Tim December 23, 2011 at 12:10 AM
Seriously, I support American Licorice and I bought Red Vines as gifts for everyone on my list this Christmas!
Barney Google December 23, 2011 at 01:26 PM
Red Vines on my X Mas list.
David Springsteen December 23, 2011 at 02:23 PM
Why would the local politicians take a side against a local business that provides so many jobs? Jobs with any employer funded benefits are hard to come by. Why don’t they get back to work and figure out how to lower Taxes and Fees in this very business unfriendly State so that companies that still operate here can afford to provide more benefits to the workers?
TruthOverDare December 23, 2011 at 04:58 PM
Seriously, why is American Licorice still in California? It is the most business unfriendly state. On top of that, Union City is a very business unfriendly city. Apparently they just invested in new machines. What were they thinking? The management lacks foresight and planning. I think it is time to give these workers a 2 year full health benefits and make a 2 year roll out plan to get the factory out of California. It will solve the problem in the short term and in the long term.
Tim December 23, 2011 at 04:58 PM
Why? Because our local politicians are nothing but a bunch of left wing hacks.
anita December 23, 2011 at 06:32 PM
What do these FORMER Bay Area companies: Sunshine Biscuit, Chiodo Candy Company, Mothers Cookies, Cal Peanut, Stella Dora Cookies, Jelly Belly and Sconza Candy Company have in with common with American Licorice Company? Answer- all had union workforces made up of the same Bakery and Confectionery Workers Union Local 125 now giving American Licorice a fight for their life, God Bless American Licorice. I hope they stay, our community desperately needs them.
Steve Shambaugh December 23, 2011 at 07:04 PM
Welcome to the “real world”, this is what most employers have been asking of their employees for years. My healthcare contribution, and co-pay, has risen constantly year after year and you know what, so has the cost of most other things I want. I “want” things to be better too. Speaking of which, I “want” a motor home like the one donated by another union member so the picketers can cook? But hey, I don’t have one and that’s just the way it is. But what is most egregious is the support, attendance, and participation of politicians. They have NO BUSINESS WHATSOVER getting involved in matters such as this. As has been said, attacking an employer who provides jobs? What a despicable soap-box opportunity they’ve capitalized on here.
Shelby December 23, 2011 at 07:45 PM
Anyone ever explain the theory of diminishing returns to the strikers? The company is covering the $3000 deductable the first year and $1500 each year in the other two years of the contract. So if I am reading this correctly, they are striking over a maximum amount of $3000 over the three years of the proposed contract. “The Company will continue to pay all premiums for health insurance for Associates and their eligible dependents. In addition, the company will pay all of the insurance deductible amounts in 2012, as well as half of all deductible amounts in 2013 and 2014. Once the deductible is reached, the plan pays at 100% with in-network care providers. There is no co-pay or co-insurance after a deductible is met.” “The Company will pay into Associates’ HSAs half of the cost of the deductible in 2013 and, again, in 2014. If Associates have not used the entire amount paid into their HSA in any given year, they can always use leftover HSA money in future years or carry these funds into their retirement. Money the Company contributes to an Associate’s HSA is his or hers– forever. ” One of the first articles stated the strikers make between $14 to $21 per hour, so based on an 8 hour day they have lost between ~$1940 to $2896 at day 17. That is $114 to $170 per day, including the $0.30 raise retroactive to August for every day the strike lasts. Hello math giants, quit while you are behind…
Ron December 23, 2011 at 08:13 PM
I don't know all the details about this strike, but any time a politician gets involved with a business issue, it means one thing: he/she wants votes! (They say they care about you, but really don't. Just look at the "career" politicians in Sacramento and Washington, DC who are really rich! Did you know 8 out of 10 richest in Washington, DC are liberal Democrats?). And the best way to get votes is to "give" voters/employees what they are demanding, regardless of how disconnected it is with the process of doing business or how much it may cost (for which the politician has "zero" responsibility!). It is a never ending loop where only the politician and those supporting him/her wins. I'll say often the public and the business suffers as a result of this corrupt process. This is almost like me coming into your home and siding with your juvenile kids about what they want and disregarding your family values and home budget! Who am I to do this?
Ron December 23, 2011 at 08:16 PM
From my view, unions and those supporting them often today forget one thing: reality. Unions want their members to get more of everything, regardless of what is going on in the real world (ever wonder why jobs are going overseas where LABOR is cheaper? And, NO, union employees won't pay higher prices of goods made by other union employees, but will pay the cheap price made by overseas non-union employees!). That's the point in their "non-give back" positions. Once you get it, you keep it....even if it kills the company and the employee's jobs! How crazy is that? Is the union really looking out for you now?
Ron December 23, 2011 at 08:28 PM
To me, unions are more interested in taking care of the unions than their members. That's why they don't accept even hour/benefit/wage cuts (temporary/permanent) to save union jobs and instead put the whole union membership in jeopardy of losing their jobs! Is that why you joined the union? Too often our liberal Democratic friends forget that somebody has to pay for everything they get, including the "free" things! Only in Fairy Tales do wages/benefits continue on forever! Do you believe in Fairy Tales or in the reality of life? Do you believe in someone else taking care of you, or are you interested in taking care of yourself? Another trick the liberals use is to involve "the children." Everyone loves children, but these folks take it to a new level so that clear thinking people are misdirected to proceed with their hearts (sometimes with extremely questionable causes) instead of their logical minds. Don't be fooled!
Ron December 23, 2011 at 08:57 PM
We saw how the "Occupy...." folks disregarded the law at every place they took over. And, what about the millions of dollars they cost employees/truckers in wages to satisfy their crazy and disconnected "demands?" Just like the "Occupy" folks, it appears that these union folks think the law is for everyone, but them. Don't they think the neighbors "deserve" some peace and quiet in the evening? These same union employees would scream to high heaven if someone trespassed on their property, so why is it a problem if the company wants them off the property? Just because it is a "peaceful rally" doesn't mean it is appropriate and/or legal. This tactic continues to be a union/liberal hallmark, "I have rights, but you don't!" Don't even question me about it or I'll beat you up and/or demonstrate against you!
Ron December 23, 2011 at 08:59 PM
Business is good. Making money is good. Being employed with an appropriate wage and benefits is good. Living in America is great (compared to some of the more socialist countries in the world where they tax you up to around 75%, or you just have to work and the government takes it all!) because you may start a business if you have an idea, or you may take your talents to another company where you my improve your wages/benefits. The fact of the matter is, it is what you bring to the table that gets you your wage/benefits. The company pays what it can to stay in business and to make a profit. It doesn't matter that you ran up a bunch of bills that you can't pay (or your government has spent more money than it takes in and now wants to raise taxes) , that is your problem. Your bills and cost of living has nothing to do with how much money a business pays you! Would you rather live in a socialist country where everyone gets paid the same, regardless of education and/or experience?
Ron December 23, 2011 at 09:02 PM
Remember, nobody gets anything for "free" until someone makes a profit. If a good portion of America (especially Sacramento and Washington, DC) understood that, we'd be on the road to economic recovery. I want to see American Licorice stay in business and stay in Union City, so I'll be buying their product to support them which in turn will allow them to provide for their employees and their families. Think about what is really important and do the right thing. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
David Ross December 24, 2011 at 01:38 AM
Why would they? One word: MONEY. Unions donate lots of money to politicians, especially Democratic ones.
Jack December 24, 2011 at 01:50 AM
Ellen Corbett needs to be voted out of office. She has no clue about how the bills she introduces affects the majority of people. And Wieckowsk needs to think about his statement that healthcare benefits are not a luxury. That is true, but since when is it the responsibility of a company to even provide healthcare, let alone pay for it. These legislators need to do their job in coming up with solutions to the healthcare situation. And why should it be "free".
John T. Green December 24, 2011 at 05:22 AM
I'm appalled at the actions taken by American Licorice. They aren't clawing back healthcare from their employees in order to survive as a business. They're a company turning a handsome profit that is seizing on the weak economy to do even better. This is the epitome of the conflict between the 1% and the 99%. All working people should side with the employees.
David Ross December 24, 2011 at 05:40 AM
How do you know they are "turning a handsome profit"? It's a privately held company. As such, they do not have to report profitability. I did a search and couldn't find any of this information. A company needs to make a profit in order to stay in business. If a company gives all of its profits to the workers it will not survive. Have you read the proposed benefit package? It sounds pretty good to me. A 5% raise over 3 years. $10,000 upon retirement, in ADDITION TO the pension. Free health care in 2012. By the way, the top 2 reasons health care is so expensive are lawyers who look for medical organizations to sue and heath care insurance, especially when there are low or no out-of-pocket costs to the person receiving healthcare. And, contrary to what Democrats think, healthcare is NOT a right. I dare you to show me in the United States or even state constitution where it is a right.
anita December 25, 2011 at 08:58 PM
Sorry Mr. Green, the "99%" has it all backwards. If you don't support the companies who create the jobs they will leave. May I suggest you read the actual offer from the Company. If you or anyone else reads it without bias they would realize the union is misleading and screwing these workers over.
Timothy Swenson December 26, 2011 at 01:00 AM
I'm "appalled" that you've made the statement "They're a company turning a handsome profit" with no supporting evidence. You've made a claim, I'm sure we'd all like to see the facts that back that statement up.

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