By John Anderson, 11/16/21
The employees of Friendship Dairies are clocking back into work today after ending a 10-day strike at the Saputo Dairy plant in Friendship.
Over two weeks ago, 215 employees voted 184-31 to strike (an initial vote was 120-0 in October). Late last week, the company said employees did not have to take the new insurance and could still receive raises. On Saturday, employees voted 140-58 to go back to work.
Mark Boling, a business agent with Teamsters 264 said before the strike, employees were given “a cookie and a six-inch sub” for working through the pandemic, then the company offered a new health insurance plan a slight pay increase that was significantly less, resulting in employees making 70 cent less per hour.
He said the new three-year contract will allow current employees to keep their current health care plan and receive a 4% raise.
“Luckily we didn’t lose anybody, but the people felt left behind by the company,” said Boling.
Saputo has only released this statement during the strike, “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.”
During the strike, Boling boldly said in a video interview with the Wellsville Sun, “Either we’re going to win or the company is going to win and it’s going to be us.”
He said it’s been an ongoing issue.
“These people are really sick of not getting the wages and benefits they deserve,” he added.
Friendship Dairies on County Road 20 in Allegany County 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 the sale went through to the Canadian company in 2013.
Another statement that struck a nerve with employees was allegedly said during the negotiations. Boling said, “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.”
During the strike, employees were at the main entrance and the shipping entrance of the plant and allowed trucks to come in and pick up products the employees have already produced for stores and leave without any incidents.
The Teamsters Local 264 released this statement:
Ten Day Strike Concludes in Victory for Workers
Members of Teamsters Local 264 employed at Friendship Dairy, a subsidiary of Saputo Dairy, have voted by over a two-to-one margin to ratify their most recent collective bargaining agreement with the company. The three-year contract comes after the workers went on strike for ten days.
“It was a privilege to stand in solidarity with the members at Friendship Dairy,” said Darrin Ziemba, Teamsters Local 264 Recording Secretary and Business Agent. “We made the necessary preparations to run a formidable strike and the members took ownership from there – rotating in and off the line so others could grill food for members, cut wood for the fire, keep the generators going and more. The comradery I witnessed was inspiring, and for that reason the faces of these members will be burned in my memory for life.”
The workers initially went on strike primarily because the company sought to drastically cut their health care benefits. The new collective bargaining agreement not only preserves their current health care plan, but also includes four percent raises through the lifetime of the agreement. Dustin Davis is one of the workers who participated in the strike.
“I think it’s a very fair offer and I love how we all stuck together and did what we needed to do,” Davis said. “Everybody’s gotten along incredibly well and we’re just a big family.”
Teamsters Local 264 represents over 4,000 workers in the private and public sector throughout upstate New York. For more information, go to http://www.teamsters264.org/.
Read our previous reporting and watch video from the walkout: