DIXON – Karen Cox wants a fair vote.
The Dixon resident is not certain that took place when her employer, Americold Logistics in Rochelle, recently elected to organize with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store union, eventually leading her to file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.
Under the impression a vote was not being tabulated, she says co-workers passed out union cards this spring to those in favor of organizing, saying it would be used for information purposes.
Those against it, such as Cox, were surprised this June when the announcement came that more than 50 percent signed cards and that her company had recognized its own labor union.
When she started collecting petitions off the clock from co-workers against the union in the parking lot, management asked her to stop and threatened to fire her if she didn’t. Cox said union organizers complained about her to management.
That’s when she sought out the National Right to Work Foundation, which is providing her with a free attorney, to file a complaint against Americold.
“(The vote) was legal, but I still think it’s shady,” said Cox, who works second shift for the cold storage and refrigerated warehouse facility. “I think they did it that way as a way for the union to sneak in without opposition. Some people were mad about that, and all I want is a legit election. I had a right to be out there.”
The National Right to Work says Cox was denied the same access it granted union organizers, which prevented her from sharing information with her co-workers and asking for a secret-ballot election to remove the union.
In their complaint to the labor board, they stated: “Americold management discriminately enforced its policy to bar Cox and other independent-minded employees from collecting petition signatures while off duty, even threatening to fire Cox from her job if she continued – while non-employee union organizers are given wide-ranging access to company facilities to counteract Cox’s efforts.”
Illinois is not a Right to Work state, which means Cox could be forced to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment once company and union officials reach a contract. One has not been reached as of yet.
Cox said she has the required 30 percent of workers on her petition to force another vote, but she cannot file them until April – 6 months after collective bargaining began.
“Many of us feel like we weren’t being mistreated by our company,” Cox said of Americold. “Why pay union dues or join an organization when they can’t do more for us than we can do on our own anyways?”
Local 578 has 123 members. Workers organized because of a taxing and confusing scheduling system with five different shifts, poor wages, lack of health insurance benefits and double-time pay on Sundays, according to a union news release.
This was the third attempt at organizing a union for the company.
“We have some workers there who were part of previous attempts to organize,” said Roger Grobstich, an RWDSU union representative. “They stayed at Americold despite opportunities for great jobs elsewhere. We have a leader there who said he was going to stay at Americold until they had a union there, and that’s what has happened.”
Local 578 did not return calls seeking comment on Cox’s claims, nor did Americold.
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (www.nrtw.org) is a nonprofit organization providing free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated in union complaints.