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Longer shifts top concern for Simplot workers

Strikers at JR Simplot on Gateway Drive in Grand Forks, N.D., talk with police officers outside the plant Tuesday, August 5, 2014. photo by Eric Hylden

GRAND FORKS – An official with the union representing striking J.R. Simplot Co. workers in Grand Forks said Tuesday proposed contract changes would affect the lives of employees’ families.

Workers at the Gateway Drive Simplot plant voted Monday night to go on strike, citing terms of a contract offer from the Boise, Idaho-based agribusiness company. While union officials said the contract affects health insurance and retirement benefits, Teamsters Local 120 Business Agent Bill Wedebrand emphasized the potential effects of longer shifts on employees’ families.

The proposed contract allows for 12-hour shifts – 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and vice versa – compared to the 8-hour shifts currently in place, Wedebrand said. But he said the proposed contract doesn’t guarantee days off.

“The company says ‘you’ll get them,’ but won’t put it in writing,” he said. Wedebrand said the current contract doesn’t guarantee days off, but includes language about getting extra pay for working a certain amount of consecutive days, “whereas this one doesn’t have that kind of language.”

It also doesn’t ensure that employees wouldn’t work more than 12 hours in one shift, Wedebrand said.

“We need to know what tomorrow brings when it comes to schedules,” he said. He added that the union prefers 8-hour workdays.


Simplot spokesman David Cuoio wrote in an email that production in Grand Forks has been “temporarily put on hold for the plant’s annual summer cleaning and maintenance, which had been previously scheduled for this time period.”

“Production is scheduled to start up again in a couple of weeks,” he added. “If necessary, that work will resume by using Simplot management personnel from across the company’s North American food group operations.”

Cuoio said he was “not able to provide additional comments at this time” in response to follow-up questions regarding proposed contract changes. On Monday, he said changes Simplot proposed were “necessary.”

“All of the changes are in line with competitive best practices and creating a ‘best place to work’ environment in the local community,” he wrote Monday. “Simplot has implemented similar changes at several of our other sites, and we’ve experienced positive outcomes such as reduced turnover and better work/life balance.”

Other issues

The proposed contract also included significant increases for out-of-pocket expenses for health insurance, Wedebrand said. He did not have specific figures available Tuesday.

He said the contract also changes the pension plan to a 401(k). Simplot has proposed contributing a certain dollar amount into a 401(k) plan, “which isn’t as secure as the defined pension program.”

“Which ends up being quite a bit less money,” he said.

Wedebrand said negotiations with Simplot have been going on for “a couple of months.” An offer was voted down in early July, and union members voted 108 to 37 against a final contract offer Monday evening.

The Teamsters Local 120 represents about 190 Simplot employees in Grand Forks, Wedebrand said, which includes laborers, mechanics and refrigeration workers.