By John Anderson, 11/4/21
Employees at the Friendship Dairies worked through the pandemic with no raise and say what is happening now with their insurance equates to a pay-cut. As a result, employees are striking at the Saputo plant in Friendship until a new deal can be negotiated.
Other companies Teamsters 264 represented in Western New York gave employees $3 an hour raises during the pandemic. However, this strike is based on insurance and other issues. As a result, 215 employees voted to strike. They have stopped marching long enough to let trucks get in and out of the dairies and employees listened to the New York State Police when asked not to cross the white line into the road on County Road 20.
Mark Boling, a business agent with Teamsters 264 said Friendship employees worked through the pandemic. Some came down with COVID. They all went back to work at the same wages and now, the negotiations are the final straw.
So far, employees have received two things from Saputo they said, a cookie and a six-inch sub.
“That has really set the people off, they had to work, a lot got COVID, came back and worked, luckily we didn’t lose anybody, but the people feel left behind by the company … they gave them a cookie and a six-inch sub, that’s what they gave them for working through COVID,” Boling said. “Either we’re going to win or the company is going to win and it’s going to be us. These people are really sick of not getting the wages and benefits they deserve.”
Friendship Dairies is nationally known for over 100 years for 13 products like Friendship cottage cheese, sour cream, yogurt, farmer’s cheese and buttermilk.
The current owners are Saputo Dairies, as they sale went through to the Canadian company in 2013.
Saputo did not respond to emails with specific questions but issued a statement saying, “We are committed to continuing negotiations in good faith to reach a new collective agreement for our valued workers and to resolve outstanding items with union representatives.”
Boling countered, “The negotiator for Saputo said because they live in Friendship, N.Y. or Belmont or Belfast, or any of the surrounding areas, they don’t need to make the same money because the cost of living is not the same as Buffalo or Green Bay and we know that’s not true. Their dollar goes just as far as anyone else’s dollar goes.”
Boling said after waiting for almost two days on the negotiations, the wage increase would not catch up with the cost of their increased insurance deductible. He said the employees offered the company two free months of premium holiday which would have saved Saputo a half-million dollars. They turned it down because we asked them to fully-fund the deductible and coinsurance the first year and they still would have saved $192,000 and would have been less in 2022 than 2021 but they still wanted an increase in contribution for employees.
“Two weeks ago, the strike vote was 120-0, but that was with the understanding another vote would take place after negotiations. On Sunday, the vote was 184-31 to strike,” Boling said.
Employees are striking near the main entrance to the plant and the area where shipping and receiving take place.
“These people are just trying to make a living. I represent Bison and Upstate Cooperative, they paid their people $3 above their wage,” Boling said. “We asked Saputo to do the same thing and they said ‘no, we are keeping them working and doing the right thing.’ We are ready, willing and able to negotiate, we will be out here until we get a deal.”