DIXON – It was 9 below Friday morning, but that didn't stop workers at Bay Valley Foods from picketing.
Members of Teamsters Local 722 went on strike at 11 p.m. Thursday, and by mid-morning Friday several union workers were picketing at the entrance of driveways into Bay Valley Foods.
The workers were on strike over proposed changes to benefits, said Greg Dewey, 55, of Dixon, and Ken Diaz, 43, of Oregon, who were 90 minutes into their picketing Friday morning and waiting for the next shift to relieve them.
In an emailed statement, Dan Dring, the vice president of human resources and operations for Green Bay-based Bay Valley Foods, said he was hopeful a contract could be reached when the two sides returned to negotiations.
"The decision by the Teamsters to call this strike is surprising and disappointing," he said in the statement. "The negotiations began less than 2 months ago and both parties have made considerable movement toward achieving a new contract."
The workers said Bay Valley Foods was withdrawing its contribution to the workers' 401(k) plan and increasing workers' contributions for health insurance without added benefits. They also say the company is moving toward a policy in which a doctor's note will no longer be sufficient for authorized time off.
The only authorized time off the workers would be eligible for, Diaz said, is from the Family and Medical Leave Act, which delays approval.
The Family and Medical Leave Act allows for "unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons," according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
A negotiating session was set for Friday afternoon, said Ron Bottrell, a spokeman for Bay Valley Foods.
The company employs 112 union workers, according to its statement, and will continue operating its packaged foods plant using management employees during the strike.
The union workers in Local 722 were taking 2-hour shifts picketing outside the Bay Valley Foods plant at 820 Palmyra St. in Dixon, Dewey said.
Normally the shifts are 4 hours long, said Dewey, who had frost in his mustache, but they have been shortened because of the cold weather.
Workers had a fire going at the site to keep warm.
A Lee County plow drove west on Palmyra Street toward state Route 2 and honked.
There were others who had honked in support, Diaz said.
"Especially in the morning," he said. "I think it was mostly teachers."