By Pancho Valdez
“We really need to go back to work. But we’re not going back in there until they treat us like human beings, not slaves!” – Loretta Ramirez, 18 yr. employee at Pioneer Flour, member of Teamsters Local 657
San Antonio,TX- Workers at the C.H. Guenther & Sons flour mill d.b.a. Pioneer Flour went on strike on April 25th after the company demanded concessions on their health care coverage that would have imposed an increase of 20% on the workers who average about $14 per hour.
Also in dispute is the worker’s retirement plan. At present the company matches worker contributions with a maximum of $925 annually. This $925 has proven to be a hardship on many of the mill workers and they are demanding that Pioneer pay the full contribution to their pension plan.
Another key issue is safety. Tony Diaz who has worked at the mill for 25 years said that in the summer the temperature inside the mill is at least six to ten degrees higher than outside. Temperatures of 100 degrees fahrenheit or more are very common in San Antonio. Diaz went on to say that he is aware of at least one worker who has died on the job when he plunged from the top of one of the tall buildings at the mill.
Both Diaz and Manuel Arcos a 28-year veteran of the mill expressed disgust and anger because in the past the union has made concessions in effort to keep the company afloat. Now that it is prospering, the company continues to demand more concessions.
Another source of their anger is the fact that the City of San Antonio gave Pioneer a 15-year tax abatement when the company purchased the abandoned Richter Bakery on Broadway. The strikers feel it is wrong for the city to give the company economic assistance in light of the company’s stingy attitude toward the workers.
Johnny Davila who has worked at Pioneer 34 years and who is the picket captain said; “My father worked here and was involved in the first strike back in 1966.” He expressed concern over the strike and the length of the strike. “I need this job. I may very well lose this job, but at some point in a person’s life one has to stand up for what is right for ourselves, our family, the whole country!”
The Guenther flour mill, which produces Pioneer brand flour products, was built in the late 1800s and is considered a historical site. This is only the second strike at the mill, the first one was in 1966.
At the San Antonio mill pancake mix, white flour, gravy mix, biscuit mix and packaged flour tortillas are produced. The company provides white flour for McDonald’s in the U.S. and in Europe.
The company owns and operates several plants in the U.S., UK and in Belgium. The members of Local 657 are appealing for support from trade unionists in the U.S. as well as globally. They especially hope to gain the support of their peers in the UK and in Belgium as well.
The strikers request that people call or e-mail Pioneer CEO Dale Trembley at 210-227-1061 or firstname.lastname@example.org Urge Trembley to return to the table and bargain in good faith with the workers.
Messages of solidarity can be called in: 210-590-2013 or e-mailed: info@email@example.com The strike has been video taped and can be seen on YouTube under Teamsters 657 On Strike.