116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Union workers voted Sunday to ratify a four-year contract with multinational ingredients maker Ingredion, ending a strike that has stretched on for nearly six months against the company’s Cedar Rapids facility.
About 88 workers trickled in before 10 a.m. Sunday at Teamsters Hall to vote on whether ratify the contract and bring an end to the strike that began Aug. 1. After over two hours of discussion, union members could be heard clapping behind closed doors and began to cast written ballots. They wrapped up just before 1 p.m. with the vote to ratify the deal.
Mike Moore, the principal and president of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union Local 100G, had said Thursday that Ingredion and the union reached the tentative deal after two days of negotiations last week. Overall, he said, reaching a deal took about 25 face-to-face sessions.
Moore thanked people who’ve supported the striking workers and donated to them, and especially the approximately 100 union members for their efforts the last 175 days.
“They stood strong and they need to hold their heads high,” he said.
He declined to provide the percentage of members who voted for and against the contract. Not all were present for the vote, and he said some have found other jobs to make ends meet.
Moore said union members will not return to work until Feb. 6. He plans to discuss a return-to-work agreement with the company Monday with his international representative.
While many members are relieved the strike is now over, Moore said there are others who would have liked a better deal and wished they could have held out longer.
“Being in negotiations since July, I do not think there was anything left on the table,” Moore said. “I think if we stayed out, we would have lost more.”
The contract includes increased pay rates, retains seniority with overtime where longer-tenured workers get first dibs on overtime work and provides an amnesty clause to protect striking workers from discipline, Moore said.
Union negotiators also worked out language on overtime and an agreement on maintenance department scheduling. Moore said there was some compromise on the requirements for workers to learn an additional job, down from two more jobs to just one.
He noted the union saved lab tech jobs and maintenance jobs, though he hopes union leaders and the company still can work out improvements to the maintenance department schedule.
After the vote, most of the union members stayed for a group photo and huddled in small groups to talk. Some went to the Ingredion plant on First Street SW to take down strike signs and other materials, and others went to Lucita’s Diner to take a breather after nearly six months of striking and negotiations.
Elaine Sweiger, 57, who has worked in the starch department for 27 years — before Ingredion acquired the plant in 2015 from Penford — said she’s proud of her union brothers and sisters who stayed strong because it paid off.
“It was something that needed to be done, but I’m also glad it’s over,” Sweiger said. “We’re all ready to get back to work. I’m glad we stayed strong because we ended up with a lot better contract than the original.”
The months of negotiations and resulting contract are a testament to the need for organized labor, Moore said. “People need a voice, otherwise a job is dictated,” he said. “ … Every contract that I’ve been through, we’ve fought to keep what we have. We haven’t asked for the world.”
Sweiger agreed the deal ironed out between the union and Ingredion shows the continued need for organized labor.
“Companies are very determined to think of the bottom line instead of the person,” Sweiger said. “ … I still feel like a lot of people think there’s no need for unions nowadays, but there’s just as much a need now as there was years ago because of the fact that there are actual people with families working for them that need a decent wage and a work-life balance. (Companies) say it, but they don’t live it.”
BCTGM International President Anthony Shelton in a statement said he is proud of the tenacity of the union’s striking members as well as the union negotiating committee’s commitment to achieving a fair contract for local members.
“This has been a long and difficult fight for our striking members and their families,” Shelton said. “With each new day on that picket line, fighting for what they deserve, our members grew in strength, courage and determination. I could not be more proud of these hard working members who put it all out on the line to fight for a fair contract.”
Becca Hary, Ingredion corporate communications director, said in a statement the company is pleased the union voted to ratify the agreement for a new four-year contract.
“The new contract provides increased wages, comprehensive benefits and growth opportunities for employees and reinforces our continued vital role in the community,” Hary said. “We look forward to welcoming our employees back to Cedar Rapids and working together to ensure the best environment for all employees, the company and the community to thrive.”
State Rep. Sami Scheetz, D-Cedar Rapids, said in a statement that while no one expected this strike to go on for nearly six months, the workers inspired people with their courage and set an example.
“From the beginning, we stood with the union workers fighting for a fair contract with Ingredion,” Scheetz said. “Workers across Iowa and across the United States can look to the example set by these brave leaders — and the union workers at Ingredion and their families can look forward to more prosperity in the days ahead.”
Cedar Rapids Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell previously said news of a deal being reached between both parties was a relief for the city.
“Ingredion is an important part of our community, as are its loyal and dedicated workers,” O’Donnell said. “It’s my hope that we can all put this behind us and support the company and the teams as they get back to work.”
The protracted strike has drawn national attention. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has publicly criticized James Zallie, the chief executive officer of the Westchester, Ill.-based company.
In a Jan. 13 letter to Zallie, Sanders urged Ingredion officials to bargain in good faith as the strike stretched beyond 23 weeks.
“The time has come for Ingredion to bargain in good faith, and offer a contract that is fair and that is just, instead of trying to discipline or even fire striking workers for exercising their constitutional right to strike,” Sanders wrote.
Comments: (319) 398-8494; email@example.com