In an area of Pennsylvania where workers at several manufacturing plants belong to the BCTGM, it wasn’t a difficult decision for workers at the Cargill Cocoa facility in Hazelton about who to contact when they wanted to form a union.
A worker at the Cargill plant first reached out to BCTGM International Director of Organization John Price in January through the union’s online organizing form. Afraid of management retaliation, the worker, Louis Morales, initially used a fictitious name. However, after several weeks of communicating with Price and understanding workers’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act, he felt comfortable in revealing his true identity and agreed to help arrange a meeting between the BCTGM and the workers.
More than 100 workers at the Cargill Cocoa facility produce high quality chocolate, coatings, fillings, cocoa powders, cocoa liquors and cocoa butters used in food manufacturing, bakery, confectionery, beverage, and dairy applications.
Louis Morales, together with his brother Freddy, also a longtime Cargill Cocoa worker, led the in-plant organizing effort. The key issues that pushed the workers to form a union were workplace safety, favoritism, constantly changing company policies and unfair workplace rules.
After learning of the many confectionery workers represented by the BCTGM, and that workers at the nearby Bimbo Bakeries USA locations in Hazelton and Lehigh Valley were represented by BCTGM Local 6 (Philadelphia), the workers asked to meet with union members and representatives of the Local.
BCTGM International Representative Roger Miller coordinated the campaign with Local 6 President/Business Agent Hank McKay, Local 6 Financial Secretary-Treasurer Kevin Looney and Local 6 Organizer Edgar Rodriguez.
According to Price, because more than 50 percent of the Cargill Cocoa workers are Hispanic, Rodriguez and BCTGM International Organizer Hector Rosa, both of whom are fluent in Spanish, were key to communicating with the workers throughout the campaign.
Bimbo bakery worker and Local 6 steward from Hazelton, John Tate, and Anthony Downing, a union member and steward from the Lehigh Valley Bimbo bakery, and the Local 6 organizing team met with the workers several times to answer questions and address concerns.
According to McKay, Downing was key to the union’s digital organizing effort including the establishment of a Facebook page called, “Cargill Cocoa Union Yes!” that helped share information quickly and easily with the workers.
“The Local 6 members from Bimbo Bakeries helped the Cargill Cocoa workers understand the many benefits they would gain if they voted to become members of the BCTGM. It was worker-to-worker communication and the message was carried back into the plant where support grew rapidly,” recalls Price.
BCTGM East Central International Vice President Art Montminy met with the organizing committee about what to expect during a union organizing campaign and assisted the Local in the final weeks.
By late June, more than 60 percent of the workers had signed union representation cards and Price filed for an election. On August 3, the Cargill Cocoa Workers voted overwhelmingly to join the union.
“Economics is always a factor in organizing. But these workers also wanted a voice on vital issues like safety and scheduling. Once they heard from other union workers and trusted the organizers, they realized the BCTGM and Local 6 could help improve their life in the workplace,” reflects Montminy.