November 2, 2015
By Steve Share, Minneapolis Labor Review
St Paul Minneapolis – Looking for Pearson Candy Company’s “Nut Goodie,” visitors to the company’s public Halloween party on Tuesday October 27th were handed leaflets warning them that the company has gone “Nut Greedy” in contract negotiations with its workers.The company wants workers to work 12-hour shifts with no overtime pay and is offering only token raises that, coupled with a jump in health insurance costs, would leave workers earning less than they currently bring home.
That was the story shared by members of Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 22, which represents 160 workers at Pearson’s St. Paul plant.Visitors with children in Halloween costumes came for pumpkin decorating, a magician, games and a chance to buy Pearson’s candy for $3 per pound cash, donated to charity. The festive community scene outside contrasts with what workers face inside the plant.“I don’t think they’re being fair to us,” said one worker passing out leaflets, who has worked at the plant two years and wished to remain anonymous.
“They’re trying to get us to work three 12-hour shifts, with no overtime pay, and they’re trying to get us to work weekends. We already do Saturdays. They’re trying to get us to work Sundays, too.”The company’s hard-line contract proposal comes in the wake of its acquisition four years ago by private equity firm Brynwood Partners.Tim West of New Brighton has worked 19 years at Pearson’s, where he is a shipping clerk and a member of the union’s contract negotiating committee.“I’ve been with the company when they had bad times. I’ve been with the company when they had good times,” he related.
“The previous owner, when he did well, he gave us better raises and more benefits.Three years ago, BCTGM Local 22 members agreed to contract concessions to help the company through a difficult time. Now, the company is doing well — boasting that revenues recently have increased 50 percent.Thanks to the workers’ sacrifices in the current contract, “the company is making — and saving — a lot of money,” West said. “We gave up so much last time.”The Brynwood Partners attack on the union contract fits a pattern followed by other private equity owners, the BCTCM leaflet noted: Squeeze blood from the workers to generate more cash for the owners and make the company more attractive for sale to a future new owner.A former Pearson’s worker who lives down the block stopped by to offer support to the BCTGM members as they handed out their leaflets. Back when Richard Anderson worked at the plant from 1960-1967, he said, “George Pearson was running it.
He was a good, fair guy.”Today, said Local 22 president Ron Mohrland, “they’re trying to run it by intimidation.” Mohrland said workers aren’t being allowed to step outside or go to their cars during lunch or breaks and that breaks aren’t being allowed until six or seven hours into a shift.Mohrland also said he received a text from a Local 22 member inside the plant reporting that a large group of temporary workers was getting a tour of the plant.“They’ve come out and told us we’re not that important, that they’ll find somebody else to do the job,” West said.