Houston coffee workers on strike

Members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 455 at the Maximus Coffee Group plant near downtown Houston have gone on strike after negotiations failed to produce an agreement on a new contract.

Maximus, which roasts and distributes coffee beans and makes specialty and private label brand coffee for a wide range of customers including Starbucks and Folgers, is seeking concessions from the workers that would reduce pay by between 25 percent and 50 percent, increase workers health insurance premium costs, and reduce overtime pay. The company also wants to stop contributing to the workers’ 401(k) savings plan.

“I’ve worked at this plant for 41 years and for Maximus Coffee since 2006 when they purchased the plant from Maxwell House,” said Robert Barnes.  “I haven’t gotten a real raise since 2009, and don’t know how I’ll be able to support my family if my wages and benefits are reduced.”

Barnes is one of 250 Local 455 members who are on strike against Maximus.

Texas is a right to work for less state, so not all of the workers belong to the union, but about 90 percent are union members and are on strike.

The strike began at midnight on October 10.

Maximus is trying to keep the plant open by using supervisors and temporary workers.

The company has told its customers that production will not be interrupted by the strike, but it’s difficult to tell whether the company’s assurance will hold up.

Workers on the picket line said that the smell of coffee is still coming from the plant, but they haven’t seen any steam, suggesting that the plant is not operating near full capacity.

Rick Alleman secretary treasurer for Local 455 told the Houston Chronicle that the concessions that Maximus is seeking could cost some workers from between $10,000 and $15,000 a year in pay.

“Maximus Coffee workers in Houston are simply trying to protect middle class jobs and their benefits after working hard to make their company profitable,” said Bill Hopkins, Local 455 president. “I hope this strike sends a strong message to the company and moves the negotiation process to a successful conclusion.”

Maximus Coffee Group is privately owned by the de Aldecoa family. As such, it is not required to report a financial statement. Cortera Business Directory estimates that Maximus’ annual sales range from $25 million to $75 million.

Sue Mann, special assistant to Hopkins, told the Houston Press that Maximus concession demands were not the result of a business downturn. By all accounts, Maximus was doing well before the strike and had picked up some new business.

Mann attributed Maximus’ concession demands to greed and to the company’s assessment that the workers wouldn’t fight to protect their wages and benefits.

“I think (Carlo de Aldecoa Bueno, president of Maximus) didn’t believe that these workers would take him on,” said Mann to the Houston Press. “This plant hasn’t had a strike before, and that’s a good thing. But at some point you have to either stand or let whatever happens happen.”

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