Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Delta Pride workers talk about their new contract

(The photograph is of Delta Pride Catfish worker Clyde Stansberry at the recent union vote on a new contract)

INDIANOLA, Miss. - On September 29, I traveled to this little Mississippi Delta town to witness the vote of workers at Delta Pride Catfish Inc. on a new contract offer from the company. A hundred or so workers were on hand as United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1529 President Lonnie Sheppard told them that the contract is not "everything we want" but "is it everything they want? Oh, no. They wanted $1.7 million from you."

The workers I interviewed after the vote generally supported the contract, a far cry from the May 2010 contract offer that would have gutted all the gains from the workers' historic 1990 strike. In May, workers voted nearly unanimously to go on strike rather than accept that contract.

The new contract offers modest pay increases, daily overtime, and a modified health insurance plan but also new limits on vacation and other measures less than popular among veteran workers like Corinneiler Howard.

The 55-year-old, 26-year veteran at the company said her pay will go from $9.15 an hour to $9.50 an hour but she is losing a week's vacation as a result of the new contract.

"I been here 26 years. I worked hard to get where I am. We've got families to feed. I think it's so unfair to lose a week (of vacation) after 26 years."

She had accrued five weeks' vacation, but new rules limits the maximum amount of vacation to four weeks.

As for the pay, she said, "I'd a felt a lot better if they'd said $10."

Clyde Stansberry, 57, a 28-year veteran mechanic's helper at the plant, said the contract was "better than nothing. Jobs are hard to find. I figured they'd come back (with a new offer). Too much to lose for both sides."

Stansberry makes $12.75 an hour.

Maggie Leflore, 58, a 22-year veteran who operates a machine that skins the fish, said she's happy enough with the contract. "I'm glad it's over. We been having a tough time."

After 22 years at Delta Pride, Leflore earns $8.05 an hour.

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