Twin Cities, Minn. − After months of negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement, workers at the Pearson’s Candy Company facility in St. Paul, Minn. are urging company CEO Michael Keller to force company negotiators to bargain in good faith.
BCTGM Local Union 22 and Pearson’s Candy have yet to reach agreement on a new contract to replace the one that expires on October 27. Local 22 represents more than 160 employees at the candy facility, which is owned by private equity company Brynwood Partners.
BCTGM Local 22 representatives assert that company negotiators are demanding employees agree to concessions, three years after Pearson’s workers already made huge financial sacrifices.
“To help Pearson’s get back on its feet after years of struggling financially, three years ago our members agreed to freeze their pension plan, lower wage rates for new hires and pay more for their health insurance,” said Ron Mohrland, BCTGM Local 22 President.
Since that time, the company has reversed its fortunes, growing revenue by 50 percent and acquiring the successful Bit-O-Honey brand from Nestlé USA.
Despite the rising profits of the company, negotiators for Pearson’s are asking their over-worked employees for additional concessions. “Now they want our members to give up overtime pay. This would force our members, predominantly women who have worked for the company for decades, to work 12-hour days without receiving overtime.”
In a letter to Pearson’s Candy CEO Michael Keller, Local 22 representatives urge him to get involved. “Major sacrifices were made during the last round of negotiations but with the company’s success and financial well-being, our members are not going to further erode their contract,” states the letter.
According to BCTGM International Vice President Jethro Head, the recalcitrance of Pearson’s is typical of small companies owned by large private-equity firms. “It’s all part of the private-equity playbook: attack the union and its contract so there is more cash for dividends and management fees paid directly to the owners of the private equity firm. This model explains income inequality perfectly,” said Head.
This is not the first time a Brynwood-owned company has been in the news for demanding unconscionable concessions from its employees. In 2008, shortly after Brynwood acquired Stella D’Oro from Kraft Foods members of BCTGM Local 53 (New York) were forced to strike at the Brooklyn, N.Y. facility when the company demanded huge concessions. After 11 months on strike, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ordered the company to reinstate the workers with back-pay. The strike and its aftermath was immortalized in the HBO documentary, “No Contract, No Cookies.”
The company and the union are set to continue negotiations on October 26, one day before the expiration of the contract.