The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which is negotiating a number of labor contracts of its own, stepped into a private dispute Tuesday, backing striking workers in a business that makes ice-cream cakes.
Supervisors Janice Hahn and Hilda Solis co-authored a motion recommending that the board send a letter to the CEO of Rich’s Products Corp., the parent company of Jon Donaire Desserts, asking him to bargain in good faith with the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union Local 37.
“All the workers are asking for is a fair contract that includes a working wage and benefits,” Hahn said. “One of the main requests is for a $1 an hour wage increase each year for the three years (of the contract) to help with their cost of living. The union also represents workers in Tennessee who make on average $6 more than the workers here in Los Angeles.”
This is the first strike in the company’s 76-year history, management said in a statement to City News Service, “because the family-owned company consistently provides our associates with competitive wages, high-quality benefits, safe working conditions and a respectful working environment.”
The company recently presented what it called a “last and final contract” that would have maintained current health care and pension benefits, along with a wage increase for each of the next three years that company officials said places wages at or above market for Los Angeles. The exact amount of the increase was not cited.
“Rich’s associates, many of whom are multi-generational and average 10 years of tenure at the plant, currently have a platinum health-care plan, of which the company pays 90% of the premium with no deductible; up to 38 days of annual paid time off; and a company-paid pension plan,” according to the company.
The union voted down the contract on Dec. 17, according to management.
Hahn said the strike in Santa Fe Springs had been going on for more than 51 days and the strikers were committed to staying on the picket line “as long as it takes.”
Company officials said they concluded that talks were at an impasse and announced this week that any of the 180 Santa Fe Springs employees willing to cross the picket line would immediately receive the proposed wage increases, back pay and a year-end bonus.
Many workers have continued to do their jobs during the strike, according to management.
“We welcome back all striking workers with open arms and will provide the same considerations to them,” the statement read.
Workers staff a production line where as many as 38 cakes per minute are produced, and they are sometimes required to pick up mandatory overtime with little notice, according to Hahn.
She said she plans a personal boycott.
“I know personally I’m not going to be buying any ice-cream cakes from Baskin Robbins, Cold Stone (or) Vons this holiday season,” Hahn said. “It isn’t worth it for those mothers who are out there striking in the cold rain with their children.”
The cakes are also sold at Walmart and Red Robin restaurants.
Hahn said she was moved to intervene because the workforce is largely made up of women.
Hahn and Solis met with the strikers Monday, and Solis noted that the workforce is largely Latina.
“Coming from an immigrant working class family, I understand the sacrifices facing these workers and their families as they wake up every morning to go to the picket line and demand better pay, health care and respect,” Solis said.
Solis asked that the board also direct the CEO to send notice to the California Labor Commissioner, California Labor & Workforce Development Agency and the National Labor Relations Board, asking those agencies to monitor good faith bargaining between the two parties.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger said she was reluctant to step in.
“We have a difficult time dealing with our own unions, and we’re grappling now with making sure that those that we contract with are providing fair wages and all, and yet we’re going to go outside … to try to influence something else,” Barger said. “This is a slippery slope that we are going down.”
Barger warned that the move would likely lead to many more requests to intervene on behalf of non-county workers.
She said she had tried unsuccessfully to reach Rich’s CEO. She expressed certainty that there was more than one side to the story and said she wanted to learn more.
However, she said she was ultimately swayed to vote in favor of the motion at hand based on what she had heard about management’s tactics in dealing with workers, including an allegation that someone had turned water sprinklers on the striking employees.
A company representative responding to those allegations said “that is simply not how we treat, or have ever treated our associates,” and pointed to a 2021 survey that found 80% of associates would recommend Rich’s as a “great place to work.”