Business

General Mills workers lock in benefits with new ratified contract

Bernie Sanders heralds union's achievement

Roger Grobstich, vice president of the Local 110 Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, joined by local General Mills workers, speaks during a news conference at Local 110 RWDSU Union Hall in Cedar Rapids on Nov. 6. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
Roger Grobstich, vice president of the Local 110 Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, joined by local General Mills workers, speaks during a news conference at Local 110 RWDSU Union Hall in Cedar Rapids on Nov. 6. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

Hundreds of workers at General Mills’ production plant in Cedar Rapids ratified their first union contract, after “productive negotiations” with the company that last week averted a strike.

More than 500 workers, represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union’s Local 110, approved a “strong” three-year contract that “stops the bleed out of long-held needed benefits,” the union said, following three voting sessions Thursday.

“I am proud to say that a union contract is now part of every balanced breakfast that comes from our General Mills plant,” said Tim Sarver, a General Mills worker for more than 37 years.

The contract guarantees workers grievance procedure and just-cause protections, along with annual general hourly wage increases over the contract term, a ratification bonus and six extra days of paid time off each year, the union’s statement said.

Also called for are new full-time entry level positions and a limit on the number of temporary employees.

The plant’s current three-shift system will be preserved under the contract.

Language in the document requires General Mills to maintain long-held benefits and “meet and confer” with the union before any sub-contracting or plant closure.

The General Mills workers cited a lack of protections, including no maintenance of benefits, on Nov. 6 in voting down the company’s proposed contract by a 99 percent margin.

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The workers said they could strike if a new agreement were not reached and, the next day, the union said they would remain at the facility, as “productive conversations” with General Mills had begun.

“General Mills Cedar Rapids facility is pleased that our employees have ratified the contract that we negotiated with the RWDSU. This contract maintains the operational flexibility that is critical to the plant’s future success,” company spokeswoman Kelsey Roemhildt said in an email Friday.

The production plant’s ratified contract drew praise from at least one Democratic presidential candidate Friday.

“Congratulations to the courageous members of (RWDSU) in Cedar Rapids,” said U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in a tweet. “All workers deserve dignity and fair pay on the job, and unions help achieve that. When I am president, we will make it easier for workers to join unions like RWDSU.”

Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris all previously had voiced support for the General Mill workers via social media.

RWDSU Local 110 represents approximately 520 of 700 workers at the Cedar Rapids plant, at 4800 Edgewood Rd. SW, which produces cereal, fruit snacks and desserts. Workers in the bargaining unit handle production and maintenance at the facility.

The local union also represents employees at the Quaker Oats facility in Cedar Rapids and Coles Quality Foods in North Liberty.

Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

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