I was so fortunate to be able to be the lead organizer on a union organizing attempt in Corona, California at a cup and food utensil manufacturing plant called Dart. Dart - Quality Single-Use Foodservice Packaging ProductsThey are the largest styrofoam cup manufacture in the world.
The effort took nearly a year, so I stayed in Southern California for the majority of time. Yes, the weather is awesome, yes the highways (especially 91) are a pain to maneuver. If you have ever watched Norma Rae Norma Rae that is what an union organizing drive is like. I met a wonderful group of people who were very motivated to become part of the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers (AWPPW) AWPPW. There were nearly 700 workers and I asked that 70 people commit to being a part of the In Plant Committee (IPC). I was pleasantly surprised to have around 100 people step forward to help lead workers from the inside. The IPC really drove this campaign and I basically just navigated through an misinformation storm the company would drag them through. Dart management threatened to move the facility to Arizona, harassed workers, held long captive audience meetings and basically misrepresented the truth about unions. We were able to thwart their tactics through earlier experiences on other organizing drives with the help of fellow AWPPW organizers David Herrera and Ken Parsons. We had set a goal of 400 authorization cards signed by Dart workers to be filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to insure we would have enough support to win an NLRB election. We reached that number in about 9 months. Some of the IPC traveled with me to the NLRB office near the Staples center in Los Angeles to witness the filing for a union election.
The IPC made a tactical decision to have an NLRB election on February 14, Valentines Day, and use that as a celebratory theme. Usually the company will drive the date for an election and the union will most of the time agree just to push the election forward. One time I had to agree to a May 5th election for a predominately Latino election in Bakersfield. The Cinco de Mayo date worked against the union and we lost. The workers at Dart were different in that they set the pace and this election was held on Valentines Day 2003.
On the day of the election I was able to demonstrate to the Dart workers of the power of the union. The NLRB allowed Dart to set up a special election spot in a break room area they partitioned off with boxes of Dart product. Dart had many union busting attorneys on hand who were on hand as I adamantly demanded all labels with Dart symbols to be covered. Even the NLRB agent said, “We just passed thousands of these symbols on the way here!” I held my ground and Dart was forced to cover up all their logos much to the glee of the workers. Most were just shocked to see David, Ken and I being allowed in the facility.
I had written on the blackboard before the election that we would have 306 yes votes. The vote was 320 to 185 in favor of the union. This represented the largest successful manufacturing organizing drive in the nation in years.
Dart Container employees vote to join union
Labor and company officials insist that they will negotiate a contact in good faith.
BY JACK KATZANEKTHE PRESS-ENTERPRISE
CORONA-Employees at Dart Container Corp's manufacturing facility in Corona decided last week to join an Oregon-based union by a vote of more than 63 percent, a federal official said Tuesday.
Production, warehouse and maintenance workers voted 320-185 to join the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers, said John Hatem, field examiner for the National Labor Relations Board. The results of the Feb. 14th vote will become official Friday if no challenges are filed, Hatem said.
Workers will have to elect a committee to bargain with the company, which manufactures foam cups and plates, plastic cup lids and other disposable food items. Union organizer Richard Marks said he hopes the contract negotiations will go smoothly."This is a time to heal, "Marks said. "We want no adversarial conditions with Dart. It was the workers democratic choice to join the union, and now that they have, we don't want a confrontational relationship."
I kept a diary of this drive to inform all people involved in this campaign. Some of this information went international, as George Hagglund, professor emeritus of Wisconsin University's School of Labor printed and distributed my Dart diary to the professor's on staff at the school of labor in New Zealand and they used it in their daily lectures. I have also been in the ongoing process of having this organizing drive published with the help of the University of Oregon in the future.
I was blessed to have the support of Len Roberts, past president of the AWPPW and past organizers David Herrera and Ken Parsons. Other people from the AWPPW that helped were Bob Crane, Gerald Cawvey, Martin Perez, Ralph Garcia, Misty Dyson Ivy, Tony Moreno, Mac Blumanglag, Stephanie Garcia, Jeannie Shell, Larry Adams, Javier Reynoso, Greg Jones, John (You know who you are) and Dave Smith. My family was very patient.
I would like to thank all the workers from Dart who put up with me, welcomed me into their homes, fed me and left an everlasting impression on my life; Rita Dominguez, Dave Witt, Chuck Willbanks, Roy Camp, Roy Garcia, Virginia Defreese, Lorenzo Torres, Jason Blanton, Carolyn, Big Mama Grande, Carol Johnson, Debbie and Dorothy Escalara, Al Frazier, Roberto, Alfredo, the Eddies, Hiram Avila, Romero and many many more.........I miss you all.
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