Labor dispute at Leprino
by Eric Firpo/ TP staff
Jan 15, 2010 | 7008 views | 71 71 comments | 67 67 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Union members protest in front of Leprino Foods Co. on Grant Line Road on Thursday afternoon. The union is rallying against proposed cuts to their health care plan.  Glenn Moore/Tracy Press
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Labor contract talks between Tracy’s giant cheese manufacturer, Leprino Foods, and 280 Teamsters who work there have hit a wall over insurance coverage, and dozens of workers walked a picket line Thursday.

Anger simmers among employees who are upset at what they describe as a hard-line stance the company has taken on health insurance.

Local union head Ed Speckman said Leprino has told workers there will be no contract with the present health care plan, and it has instead offered workers a plan with higher co-payments and slightly less coverage.

Speckman and workers complain that a lesser health plan is a big blow to Leprino workers, because many have been there 20 years or more, are in their 40s and 50s, and use their health insurance regularly.

“We’re all getting old,” said Manteca resident Eric Fincher, 53, who’s been at Leprino for 24 years. “We’re taking meds. Our teeth are falling out. It’s not like we’re asking for an arm and a leg, because we’re not.”

Speckman says what particularly rankles workers is that in past contracts, they’ve given up higher pay in exchange for better insurance.

The old contract expired Dec. 31, and after months of negotiations, workers rejected Leprino’s offer by a 75 percent margin in a Jan. 2 vote.

Leprino spokesman Joel Krein sent out a press release saying the company offered its workers a “market-based” health plan that cuts workers’ monthly contributions and, “despite increased deductibles,” puts more money in workers’ pockets.

But Fincher and another on the picket line said it equates to pennies an hour more, and for workers with health problems that require prescription drugs, it will mean a lot less income over the course of a year.

The Denver-based Leprino is a huge cheesemaker with nine plants around the country, three of which are in California. Leprino has owned the Tracy plant, which employs 325 people, since 1977. It produces about 300,000 pounds of cheese a day, and it has patents on the way it makes cheese so that milk that arrives in the morning is turned into mozzarella that can end up on a pizza that same night.

Its owner, Jim Leprino, was listed by Forbes as the 141st-richest person in the U.S. in 2009, with a net worth of $2.4 billion.

Krein declined to discuss the details of the labor talks, but Speckman said he’s been told in negotiations that the company wants to bring its insurance costs in line with most of its other plants, six of which are nonunion and have half the insurance costs of its unionized plants.

Speckman suspects the company wants to lower the Tracy plant’s insurance costs to discourage workers from joining a union at its other plants, since insurance coverage under the proffered level would be about the same at union and nonunion factories. Krein said unions already existed when Leprino bought the plants where workers are unionized.

Workers mentioned the possibility of a strike this week, and though both sides hope to avoid that, positions seem hardened.

“I’m ready to drop my hat and lose everything,” Fincher said.

Krein was diplomatic when he said, “At this point, we hope we’re still in constructive negotiations. I’m confident we’re going to come to an agreement.”

Leprino’s press release said it wants to get a new labor agreement, “but is committed to operating the plant and meeting the needs of thousands of customers around the world who depend upon us.”
Comments
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ANagle
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January 19, 2010
Congress is no longer republican controlled and there are independants in congress. Trouble is independants just take whoever's side is in control. The democrats gave banks and companies like this more of our tax money. Difference is the bankers didn't have to picket. Democrats in congress might consider requesting the unions put advertisment space on those signs too
Skubanista
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January 19, 2010
Lola75,

I fear that if I continue to ignore you, your comments will only get nastier and more insulting — perhaps that will occur, regardless. While I do not have the time, energy, or desire to continue to go back and forth on this issue, I will try to address some points.

The reason I am not going to directly respond to all of the specific questions and comments (some with which I agree, by-the-way), is because you, quite obviously, have already made up your mind. You have already self-identified with the “union” employees and take the stereotypical union vs. management stance (an attitude not exclusive to union sympathizers—this “us against them” mentality goes both directions). As such, I believe that you will likely never consider that there may be more to these situations than YOU are privy to. It appears that you are getting your information from a source who works in the Tracy facility (a spouse or other relative, perhaps?) who has limited access to “the big picture,” for lack of a better description. I do have access to both sides of the argument, and sympathize with both sets of complainants, agreeing or disagreeing as my own logic dictates, while still attempting to maintain an unbiased, middle of the road perspective. Your mind and sympathies appear already set and I see little chance of changing them. Maybe I sell you short.

Regardless, I promise you, this conclusion has nothing to do with the ownership of a “useless” piece of paper, or lack thereof; it is completely the result of the manner in which you have presented yourself in this forum. My reference to a lack of a college degree is only to point out that people go through extra YEARS of training in order to make their way to higher positions of authority and compensation, and therefore, SHOULD be entitled to such. It was in no way to disparage those who do not go on in school, only to point out that there is a legitimate cause for differentiation between the wages and benefits of the two groups. The only thing a college degree infers is that you have a little specialized knowledge the average Joe does not, along with some measure of tenacity. It is not indicative of IQ, nor is it a guarantee of success or expertise out in the real world. I’m not certain why you take offense to my tone; I do not believe I sound arrogant or condescending, merely informative.

Again, for the record, the union plants and the management do have similar healthcare compensation packages, both are superior by national standards; both have seen reductions in the last few years—still, both continue to maintain an above average ranking.

Additionally, someone else claimed that of Leprino’s US facilities, only two were non-union, this is not accurate. They have nine plants, and six are non-union, only three, union.

As for the lack of minorities in management positions in the Tracy facility, this is not in any way, shape, or form, an indication of racism. The company MUST hire minority management personnel when there is a viable candidate. If their presence is limited, it is because there were no qualified applicants at the time the positions were posted. Additionally, Leprino Foods is a company that prefers to promote from within, so often, a person from the hourly ranks will move into positions of management if they are the best qualified candidate. Lastly, Leprino Foods, (as with all large companies), is monitored by the EEOC to ensure that hiring practices are and unbiased and legal, precluding any chance if the situations you describe from occurring.

I apologize to all if my previous post indicated pretentions or condescension, neither of which I possess as they pertain to higher education.

ShortyM,

I just saw your post and I’m a little confused. How did Congress bail out Leprino Foods?

shelly13
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January 19, 2010
Our Congress is infested with Democrats? How about those Republicans too? They all need to go. Time for Independents to rule the roost. Democrats and Republicans must go! They can't stop thinking they are each right all the time. They just bicker like little two year olds. I'm sick of it.
ShortyM
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January 19, 2010
lola75 I do not think you are a good judge of what it means to be a good or lousy worker. Because I doubt it when you say many people. A good worker or workers would come forward when others are being treated unfairly. Not just to the picket line.
ShortyM
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January 19, 2010
Anyone else find it interesting that our democrat infested congress gave Leprino a bailout? Then the union reps at this company automatically tells the workers to put their handouts?

Sounds like a nice gig at the taxpayers expense? What's the catch? You have to return the favor of a vote for a democrat?

lola75
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January 19, 2010
Skubanista, I also find it amusing that you expect people to believe that the non-union plants have above average insurance. I'm sure their insurance is very similar to management's, which according to you is very costly. Management has always wanted the employees to have a similar plan such as theirs. Why? Because the union employees do not deserve such a plan. It is one of the best insurance's around according to management it is the "Cadillac Plan". I get the sense in many situations when management speaks on the subject of insurance that they are envious because the workers have a plan like they do. Well would management sacrifice and take an almost non-existant raise in salary, just to keep their benefits? That is what these workers did 3 years ago. You asked the question as to whether workers were being treated humanely. I'm not so sure. If you are privy to information inside the plant then you know that just last year a worker (WHO IS CLOSELY RELATED TO SOMEONE IN MANAGEMENT) used a derogatory word toward another worker. I believe the individual called a minority a "Monkey". Now the union didn't have to step in and save this individual from any consequences because management was right there to do it for them. Nothing ever really came of the incident. The person was not fired. And what is interesting is this individual wasn't even a good worker. The person who suffered such degredation comes from a department that has many workers who are intimidated and scared to come forward when treated unfairly. So, what were you saying about being treated unfairly? Also, if you will notice there is an absence of managers that are minorities within the plant, as well. The only minority seems to be in Human Resources and that is only so their strings can be pulled from up above. But of course, this plant is open to all types of minorities as long as their are working the line. Is that why I sense so much arrogance in your comments. Your comments also give the feeling that you see yourself as somehow more superior than the workers who roll out that 300,000 pounds of cheese a day. I guess it is cause you have your degree. But I must say this. Your degree is just a piece of paper. And working towards one does not teach how to run a plant, because if it did you would definitely need to go back to school.
DeeOGeefan
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January 19, 2010
lola75,

A simple fact of business.... every company wants you to be a team player and will frequently remind you there is no “I” in team, what the don’t say is there is also no “we”, but there is a whole lot of “me”. As in they expect “me” to take responsibility and get it done. It’s not just Leprino, its all business – worldwide.

DeeOGeefan
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January 19, 2010
DraftCapture,

""$2.6 billion and rising." But these workers, they need to take a cut? And from their health care? Please."

Over all, I don't see where the union members are being asked to take a cut. Yes, it is true the company wants to make changes to the health insurance that may cost members slightly more in co-payments at the Dr's office. That is a negative. On the other hand, by-weekly employee contributions will be reduced, and I have not heard one word about the pay raise offered by the company. If my memory serves me right, that in itself was in the area of 5. something percent, more than enough to offset the out of pocket insurance cost. In my opinion, both lowered contribution and the pay increase fall on the positive side of the ledger.

My simple mind is coming up with one negative and two positives... It appears the Union members are coming out ahead in the long run. Please correct me if I am wrong.

As I said in my previous post, I am just an outsider looking in, these are MY opinions.

ElCaboWabo
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January 18, 2010
Skubanista,

I did see the city union for the PD foregoed their next year's pay raise to save some jobs and I was wondering if the Leprino union discussed the possibility of waiting for the economy to pick up before going on strike?

lola75
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January 18, 2010
Skubanista, if you are indeed in a position to have knowledge and inside information about what is happening at the Tracy plant then there are many things you've left out. I find it funny that when the company wants to achieve a goal the vocabulary suddenly changes. The term "we" is used quite a bit. As in "we" can achieve this goal or that goal. However, when the company acheive's its goal the term "we" is forgotten. "We" is a term used only when the company wants its workers to join together as a team and provide profitable results for the Company. However, when it is time to enjoy the fruits of their labor, "we" is forgotten. "You" is also a popular term. As in 'You" the employee are responsible for your own safety and the fact that you had a major accident. I do agree an employee is responsible for their own safety. However, for a plant that runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the question becomes, how do employees manage to perform tasks which require the machines to be down for an extended period of time while maintaining thier safety. This is the responsiblity of the employee. The employer denies any pressure being placed on workers to get the job done in less than the amount of time necessary to do it in. I don't know of anyone who would purposely put themselves in danger, unless of course to save their job.

Throughout this whole situation, union members have heard nothing but the amount of costs it takes to run the plant. The amount of accidents and workers comp claims that have been paid out. The fact that the company isn't seeing the results they would like to see is due to their own behavior. The people on the line are not leaders. They only have a high school diploma, remember. They are looking for leadership. A strong leadership at that. However, all they see is a weak management team who lacks people skills, exhibits a great amount of arrogance and an inablilty to take responsibilty for what's happening. Management itself has a problem attracting and keeping quality workers. And yes unlike those that are union they can be hired and fired quite easily. However, there are manager's holding positions that they have no business being in. They do not take the initiative to learn the day to day operations within their department and are more concerned with texting and having a social life than helping the plant be successful.
IvyL
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January 18, 2010
Not everyone has to take a pay cut. Contrary to popular belief not everyone is being negatively affected by this "bad economy".

Have I had my finances cut? No. I asked for more and got more. Have my health benefits been cut or changed? No.I'm not sure why most people are under the assumption that everyone is affected, not true.

These workers can ask for whatever they want to ask for, it doesn't mean they are going to receive what they want. The reason a lot of you have had negative impacts on your salaries and healthcare is because you have allowed this to happen to you. Maybe you don't have the capacity to persuade your employer otherwise but that is your problem. Again I will mention that many of you like to be walked on and taken advantage of. Just because you have had it bad doesn't mean everyone else has to.

jagdad1
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January 18, 2010
The minute those picket signs go out on the street, "mind your own business" doesn't apply anymore-dontcha think? By the way, did everyone see the Tracy police not taking their scheduled raises to help save jobs? Sign of the times....
ElCaboWabo
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January 18, 2010
bad attitude,

What? I just had lunch at Taco Bell and noticed what looked like Leprino cheese being squirted onto my Taco Bell burrito with a calking gun.

Now, it's going to be my business, all day.
ConcernedNeighbor
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January 18, 2010
It is our business as long as we eat their cheese,.. pizza with their mozarella cheese on it among others. No?

But we do not want to see big rise in cost of cheese, either.

Some "big cheese" is sitting happy in his cushioned and well paying job. But be realistic, they want their profit, too.

Can't make every cheese happy, some are blue.

Joking aside, good luck.

CN

bad-attitude
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January 18, 2010
i'm guessing most if not all of you commenting are not involved in this dispute. Why don't you mind your own business and let the parties involved hash out the differences.
Barbecue
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January 18, 2010
Also, will Tim Geighner be providing more of that money you Googled?

I'm just wondering if they convinced our gov of the need for that government money, why do you believe they are doing so well?

Money is tight everywhere. Who's to say?
Barbecue
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January 18, 2010
Draft Capture,

In this economy, don't you think Leprino is as financially bloated as a "fatted calf"? Sorry for the pun. As your company is a private company there may be less visibilaty than you can share with us? Just asking.

DraftCapture
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January 18, 2010
Day trader friend: You must be terrible at your job if you don't know Leprino is still a privately-owned company. Not publicly traded. How are you buying that stock, huh?

And it isn't a bad economy for Leprino. Leprino is doing very well, people. Jim Leprino is listed on the top of a world billionaire's list developed by Forbes Magazine. The company, too. That is billionaire -- with a B. He is doing fine. He is just trying to use the excuse of a bad economy to draft a little more money from his workers. If you think that's fair, well then you must also appreciate all the corporate welfare Leprino gets from the state of California and the Federal government. Look it up -- your tax dollars are going to help this company build and expand. Check it out. Google it and find out how they received more than a million dollars just from the Federal government in one deal in Colorado. And as they receive those monies (our tax money), they are cutting benefits to the workers (our friends and neighbors) that are supposed to be benefited by the tax breaks and tax dollars Leprino receives.

This is simply a greed move -- no more, no less. Don't believe me? Read this story from Forbes (Hey Day Trader guy, Forbes is a magazine about business):

"James Leprino- Cheese king weathering recession... Today Leprino Foods operates 12 plants around U.S. and Europe. Sales: $2.6 billion (That's been up every year, by the way). By-products whey protein, lactose, sweet whey powder used in infant formula, yogurt. Plans for plant in Colorado expected to boost dairy production, fuel local economy."

$2.6 billion with government subsides -- and they are expanding. Yeah, keep defending Leprino. For every pro-James Leprino statement I read on here, I am simply going to respond: "$2.6 billion and rising." But these workers, they need to take a cut? And from their health care? Please.

Tracy residents, support Leprino!

Leprino = $2.6 billion and expanding.

DraftCapture
|
January 18, 2010
Day trader friend: You must be terrible at your job if you don't know Leprino is still a privately-owned company. Not publicly traded. How are you buying that stock, huh?

And it isn't a bad economy for Leprino. Leprino is doing very well, people. Jim Leprino is listed on the top of a world billionaire's list developed by Forbes Magazine. The company, too. That is billionaire -- with a B. He is doing fine. He is just trying to use the excuse of a bad economy to draft a little more money from his workers. If you think that's fair, well then you must also appreciate all the corporate welfare Leprino gets from the state of California and the Federal government. Look it up -- your tax dollars are going to help this company build and expand. Check it out. Google it and find out how they received more than a million dollars just from the Federal government in one deal in Colorado. And as they receive those monies (our tax money), they are cutting benefits to the workers (our friends and neighbors) that are supposed to be benefited by the tax breaks and tax dollars Leprino receives.

This is simply a greed move -- no more, no less. Don't believe me? Read this story from Forbes (Hey Day Trader guy, Forbes is a magazine about business):

"James Leprino- Cheese king weathering recession... Today Leprino Foods operates 12 plants around U.S. and Europe. Sales: $2.6 billion (That's been up every year, by the way). By-products whey protein, lactose, sweet whey powder used in infant formula, yogurt. Plans for plant in Colorado expected to boost dairy production, fuel local economy."

$2.6 billion with government subsides -- and they are expanding. Yeah, keep defending Leprino. EFor eery pro-James Leprino statement I read on here, I am simply going to respond: "$2.6 billion and rising." But these workers, they need to take a cut? And from their health care? Please.

Tracey residents, support Leprino!

Leprino = $2.6 billion and expanding.

StartupVCGuy
|
January 18, 2010
Draft Capture,

As a day trader and sometimes business analyst on the TP blogs I would be seriously looking at downgrading Leprino foods. I would seriously question your analysis.

Some cheese is now sold at 25% below the CME. Most likely during your lifetime, you may recall the government giving away downgraded cheese, for -free-.

Smaller companies can open factories overseas and catch up with Leprino too easily. They haven't opened many new plants in the last ten years. This is not a good time for Leprino, as you might think.

Scudders, Heinz and Holly left because of your same type of folly. Can't get enough of a good thing.



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