More than 100 supporters turned out Wednesday, April 25 for a solidarity demonstration with members of Teamster Local 657 to mark the one-year anniversary of their strike at the Pioneer Flour Mill in San Antonio. Last year, the workers walked off their job to protect their health care benefit.
Frank Perkins, president of Local 657, told those at the demonstration that the strike was not an isolated event but rather the result of a larger assault on worker rights and our way of life. What we’re seeing at the Pioneer Mill is just another battle that’s taking place in the War Against Workers that’s taking place all across the US, Perkins said.
In the case of the Pioneer strike, the war has been extended to include the workers’ families.
The Pioneer Mill is owned by CH Guenther & Sons, an international food processing company with plants in three other states besides Texas and in the United Kingdom and Belgium. Its brands include Pioneer, White Wing/La Paloma, Williams, Sun Bird, and Morrison’s. It also provides flour to McDonald’s for its hamburger buns.
Despite the company’s extensive resources, it wants to triple the amount that its Pioneer workers pay to provide health insurance for their families. Last year, with two years remaining on its contract with the workers, CH Guenther insisted that the union agree to renegotiate their health care insurance coverage.
The company proposed that the weekly premium to cover family members be increased from $11 per week to $35 per week. The increase would have made it impossible for many workers, whose average pay is about $14.50 per hour, to continue to cover their families.
The company offered a 3 percent raise for the first year to help workers offset the increase but nothing for the second year. Despite the one-year pay increase, workers would still have seen their take home pay reduced in the first year and there was no guarantee that premiums wouldn’t increase in the second year. A second increase would have eroded take home pay even further.
The workers could see the writing on the wall and knew that if this substantial premium increase took effect, the company would want more concessions in the future, which would erode their standard of living even further. They elected to fight back and walked off the job.
About 90 workers struck a year ago. According to the San Antonio Express, ten of the strikers have found other jobs or retired, leaving about 80 still on strike.
A number of unions and other organizations joined the strikers for the solidarity demonstrations. Members of CWA, American Federation of Teachers, Ironworkers, Laborers, Sheet Metal Workers, and Teamsters from other companies like UPS were at the demonstration. They were joined by members of the Occupy Movement, the Green Party, the International Socialist Organization, and local elected officials.