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OK Foods union vote could be thrown out, new union election proposed

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

A failed May 1 vote on whether to unionize workers at an OK Foods facility in Heavener, Okla., could be dismissed by the National Labor Relations Board after it claimed the company interfered with the vote.

In a letter written by NLRB Field Examiner Amy Novara, she details a long list of allegations against the company related to the May 1 vote, including financial incentives to ensure the unionization vote failed.

"During the past six months, the Employer granted wage increases and retroactive pay to employees, including prior to the filing of the petition on March 20, 2014, and during the critical period after the filing of the petition, in order to discourage union activities and support of the union in violation of Section 8(a)(3) of the Act," she wrote.

She also said after March 20, OK Foods denied wage increases and retroactive pay to employees that had engaged in union activities.

Novara's letter continued, alleging the company threatened employees if they voted in favor of unionizing with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1000 during the May 1 vote.

"In or about February 2014, the Employer, but Supervisor Sparks, informed employees that they could not address wage increases and retroactive pay because of the Union and threatened employees with loss of wages if employees selected the union as their collective bargaining representative, in violation of Section 8(a)(1) of the Act," she wrote.

Other similar allegations were made in her letter against OK Foods CEO Trent Goins, who she said "informed employees that wage increases and retroactive pay were being withheld because of union activity in violation of Section 8(a)(1) of the Act."

An attempt to contact Goins for this story was unsuccessful.

Novara stated in her letter that a settlement agreement attached to her letter "notifies employees or members that the Charged Party (OK Foods) will cease and desist from engaging in conduct proscribed by the Act," adding that the May 1 election would be thrown out and another election on unionization would be held.

Even though the NLRB's field examiner has laid out her case, with 18 different alleged violations of the law, OK Foods has not acknowledged that it has agreed to the settlement by the deadline date of Thursday, June 26. Novara stated that if the company did not accept the settlement, a formal complaint could be filed against OK Foods.

The UFCW said after the failed vote that it would file and objection, with UFCW's Anthony Elmo saying the company "subverted the vote as much as possible."

In a statement Monday, UFCW Local 1000 President Ricky Burris said forming a union would protect workers from the types of actions alleged in the NLRB letter.

“We want these workers to get a fair chance to have their voices heard. OK Foods has to rely on lies, threats, and coercion to scare these workers away from forming a union. In reality, forming a union will help protect them from a company that obviously has no respect for them whatsoever. I’m excited that these workers are being given a chance to vote again," he said.

The union said workers have complained to the UFCW about "low wages, expensive healthcare benefits, and unfair and unequal treatment at (the) OK Foods chicken processing plant in Heavener."

It is unclear when a new election could be held.

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Efforts have also been made to unionize Fort Smith and Muldrow, Okla., OK Foods facilities, though no formal votes or actions have taken place like the May 1 vote in Heavener.

OK Foods is a subsidiary of Industrias Bachoco (IBA), a company which boasts several unionized facilities in its native Mexico. Shares of Industrias Bachoco were trading at $52.67 during mid-day trading, up nearly a tenth of a point.

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