DIXON – The Dixon VFW hall was filled with nearly 150 union workers at noon Thursday. Some of them, just a week earlier, were at work at the Bay Valley Foods plant on the western edge of Dixon.
The Teamsters Local 722 workers went on strike at 11 p.m. last Thursday, after their contract with Bay Valley Foods, a Green Bay-based company, expired Dec. 28.
Since the strike began, the two sides have met with a federal mediator three times and have a fourth negotiating session set for 9:30 a.m. today.
“If we can get it done [today], [to]night, we’ll vote on Sunday,” Steve Mongan, the union president, said during a rally for the workers at the Dixon VFW hall on Thursday. “And you can go back to work on Monday.”
Bay Valley Foods called in nonunion workers to run the plant on Wednesday, Mongan said. The company was also using management staff from its other plants to run the plant.
“The company has no comment on today’s events and looks forward to resuming negotiations [on Friday],” Bay Valley Foods said in an emailed statement.
Outside the VFW hall, with the rest of the workers’ parked cars, was a semitrailer, painted with an American flag and “TEAMSTERS” written in large letters.
After the rally at the VFW hall, that semitrailer drove by the Bay Valley Foods plant and the picket lines and honked its horn. It was greeted by cheers and waves from the workers on the picket lines as it made at least four trips.
In the VFW hall, workers ate and talked. They had already met with the rest of the union members, other than those on the picket lines, and their negotiating team.
There are a few contract issues on which the two sides can’t reach an agreement, but one major sticking point, according to Mongan, needs to be settled first.
Bay Valley Foods wants to remove a policy allowing the workers to have a doctor’s note for an excused absence that doesn’t count against eligibility for an attendance bonus.
Support comes from other unions
Mongan was among several union leaders from other area unions that addressed the Bay Valley Foods workers during the rally at the VFW hall.
He said the members voted “nearly unanimously” to go on strike and put their trust in the negotiating team.
Ted Rowley, of Local Teamsters 700, used to work at the Bay Valley Foods plant in Dixon and told his former co-workers that he was proud of them.
“We don’t back down. We don’t cower. We fight,” he said during the rally. “Tell Bay Valley that when this is done, ‘You may not like us, but you’ll respect us.’”
Other union leaders told the workers they needed to stay united and committed, that they had to let the community know what was going on. Those union leaders, they said, came to the rally to show their support for other union workers.
Kathy Lane, president of AFSCME Local 448, said that among their most important rights in the state of Illinois, is the right to free speech and to collectively bargin. She said the longer the strike goes on, the stronger the workers become.
“One day longer, one day stronger,” she told the workers.
She also led them in an chant. “Tell me what democracy looks like,” she shouted.
“This is what democracy looks like,” the union members shouted back.
On the line
After the rally, the numbers on the picket lines swelled to 40 or 50 people, as the workers made their way, following the semitrailer, to the plant.
Shawn Dowd, a union steward and member of the negotiating team, has worked at Bay Valley Foods for 11 years, he said form the picket line Thursday afternoon.
The workers were “100 percent” supporting the strike, he said, and the rally was a way to show solidarity.
The workers on the picket line Thursday were wearing fewer layers than previous days, when temperatures dropped into single digits during the day and below zero at night.
“We’re strong enough that 30 below hasn’t deterred us,” Dowd said.
The workers still had two fires burning for heat, one was contained in a garbage can.
The workers wanted to send a peaceful message to the community and to Bay Valley Foods, Dowd said, that they weren’t wavering.
Workers on the picket lines are kept off Bay Valley Foods property and in the public right of way by caution tape. One worker ran to the middle of Palmyra Street to wave an American flag. The other workers cheered.
A van tried to pull into the Bay Valley Foods parking lot Thursday afternoon, but the workers didn’t have anywhere to move to get out of the way.
“If we touch the yellow tape, we get arrested,” one worker said.
The Dixon Police Department has been in contact with Bay Valley Foods and its security team, as well as the union leaders throughout the strike, Police Chief Danny Langloss said.
The police department has been proactive, Langloss said, and even met with union leaders Thursday morning before the rally.
There aren’t special patrols or surveillance of the picket lines, Landloss said, but so far the strike has been peaceful.
By 2:30 p.m. Thursday, the picket lines had returned to the normal half-dozen people each.