Latino workers fight for a union after being locked out

A group of Latino workers in a suburb south of Chicago continue to fight for their right to join a union even though their employer has locked them out.

Their struggle began in October when 70 workers at National Pasteurized Egg (NPE)/Michael Foods of Lansing, Illinois walked off the job to protest sexual harassment, unequal pay, poor safety conditions, and work shifts that can last as long as 27 hours.

After the walkout, the workers signed union authorization cards expressing an interest in joining United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 881.

They returned to work, but two weeks later were locked out by the company, which hired workers through a temporary agency to replace them.

NPE/Michael Foods operates a regional egg processing plant that before the lockout employed about 140 workers at its facility in Lansing.

NPE became NPE/Michael Foods in September, when NPE was  acquired by Post Holding, the third largest cereal company in the US that makes a number of familiar brand name cereals such as Cocoa Pebbles, Shredded Wheat, Raisin Bran, and Grape Nuts.

Post has been expanding and in 2014 purchased Michael Foods, a producer of egg and other food products.

In September 2016, Post purchased NPE, which produces cage-free and hard-boiled eggs at three plants including the one in Lansing, and combined it with Michael Foods.

Post reported net sales of $5 billion during its fiscal year 2016 and an operating profit of $545.7 million.

The walkout by NPE/Michael Foods workers in Lansing began October 17 about six weeks after Post announced its acquisition of NPE.

The workers who walked off the job returned to work on October 22, but on November 7 when they showed up for work, the company informed them that they were being replaced by temporary workers hired through NEXUS, a temporary staffing agency operating out of Hammond, Indiana.

The company also hired a security company called AFIMAC, which assists companies manage strikes and high risk employee terminations.

Despite being locked out, the workers continued to fight for the right to join a union.

They filed for a union representation election.

On November 17, 100 locked out workers rallied at the NPE/Michael Foods processing facility in Lansing.

The rally took place on the day before the union election was to be held.

The election took place, but the results are pending because the company challenged 107 of the votes.

Jorge Mujica of Arise Chicago, a faith labor worker center that has been supporting the NPE/ Michael Foods workers, said that the unofficial vote count was 115 yes votes for the union and 23 no votes.

Local 881 has filed charges against NPE/Michael Foods for retaliating against the workers and interfering with their right to join a union to improve their working conditions.

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