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Marquez protest

Candida Vanegas, holding microphone, speaks about her firing from Marquez Brothers International, Inc. during a press conference held in front of the cheese plant in April. Flanking Vanegas is Assemblymember Roger Hernandez, left, and Chester Suniga, right, of Teamster Local 517. (Sentinel file photo)

HANFORD — Union efforts to get a labor contract at a Marquez Brothers Hanford cheese plant have stalled, with accusations flying that the company is using stalling tactics to demoralize workers.

Doug Bloch, Teamsters Joint Council 7 political director, said the last bargaining session was in June, when workers voted 119-2 to reject an offer from Marquez to raise the $9 minimum wage at the plant to $9.10 an hour.

The union is asking for minimum $12-an-hour pay for packers, who comprise about 60 percent of the mostly Latino workers at the sprawling facility on 11th Avenue.

“The company really hasn’t been willing to come up at all in terms of the wages they want to offer people,” Bloch said.

Company officials did not respond to repeated calls seeking comment.

Hanford workers overwhelming voted last August to form the union, but have since gone nowhere in attempts to get a contract. Marquez has reportedly hired Littler Mendelson, a prominent Los Angeles law firm known for its union-busting tactics.

Littler attorney Robert Millman, who is reportedly working with Marquez, did not return calls seeking comment. Littler’s website calls the firm “a strong counterpoint to the world’s most powerful labor organizations,” going on to state that “We provide legal advice to companies as they devise and implement strategies for lawful union avoidance.”

Marquez is stalling in order to demoralize workers and persuade them to decertify the union, Bloch said.

“There are no negotiations scheduled,” he said.

Workers could vote to dissolve the union as early as September. Workers could sign a petition that they no longer want labor representation, and a new election would be held.

“I would be very surprised if it doesn’t happen,” Bloch said.

To increase the pressure on Marquez, the union has stepped up local protests. People representing the Teamsters have been passing out flyers at Cost Less and Grocery Outlet in Hanford asking people not to shop there because the stores carry El Mexicano products manufactured by Marquez.

The effort of Teamsters to organize Latino workers at Marquez is the beginning of a larger push for the organization to make inroads in other food processing operations in the San Joaquin Valley.

“Our organization is absolutely committed to improving wages and working conditions for Latino workers in food production,” Bloch said. “We just happened to start in Hanford.”

The reporter can be reached at 583-2432 or snidever@hanfordsentinel.com.

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