Labor Says Mott's Apples Are Rotten to the Core
Senior writer at Bill Moyers Journal
August 24, 2010 12:08 PM
Among the many TV ad jingles sadly cluttering my brain
since childhood (although useful in trivia contests) is
the one that went, "The finest apples from Apple
Land/Make Mott's Apple Sauce taste grand!"
A branchful of the juicy, singing fruit would belt it
out at the end of commercials that urged us to use
applesauce to accompany meats, slather onto bread, spoon
on top of ice cream, spackle drywall, you name it.
The Mott's commercials were especially meaningful where
I grew up because we lived in Apple Land -- western New
York State, not far from the town of Williamson, where
workers at a Mott's factory have been out on strike
since May 23rd.
The job action was started by 305 working men and women,
members of Local 220 of the Retail Wholesale and
Department Store Union (RWDSU). Whether they win or lose
could play a role in determining the future of organized
labor -- and the vanishing American middle class.
Mott's purchases between six and seven million bushels
of New York apples every year -- more than half of all
the apples produced in the state -- and has gone through
a number of acquisitions and consolidations since Samuel
R. Mott, a Quaker who made his own apple cider and
vinegar, founded the company in 1842.
Today it's owned by the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group (DPS),
based in Plano, Texas. Ever since the takeover, union
members claim, the family spirit at the factory that
once included an effective worker-management safety
committee, Christmas parties, Easter hams and company
picnics has been destroyed. Corporate greed, they say,
has marched in with a vengeance.
I first met Bruce Beal, Local 220's recording secretary
and a member of its executive board at an AFL-CIO
meeting in Albany, NY, last week. (Full disclosure: I'm
president of the Writers Guild of America, East, a union
affiliated with the AFL-CIO.) We caught up again on the
phone, just as he and fellow strikers were seeing off a
delegation of members headed out to an informational
picket at a Dr. Pepper Snapple facility in Illinois.
Beal said he and the other union workers were shocked
when DPS -- despite a profit of $555 million on sales of
$5.5 billion last year -- demanded massive contract
concessions; among them, slashing wages by $1.50 an
hour, the elimination of pensions for new employees, a
20 percent reduction in their 401K's and a change in
their health plan Beal says would force members to pay
out of pocket an additional $6,000-8,000 a year.
In an official statement playing on the region's
economic hardship, the company declared that, "DPS
workers in Williamson enjoy significantly higher wages
than the typical manufacturing employee in Western New
York... As a public company, Dr. Pepper Snapple Group
has a fiduciary responsibility to operate in the best
interests of all of its constituents, recognizing that a
profitable business attracts investment, generates jobs
and builds communities."
Bruce Beal dismissed the DPS argument as "a line of
bull... They don't give a rip about their employees,
just lining their pockets is all they're concerned
with." He points to Larry Young, the company's CEO,
whose salary has risen 113 percent over the last three
years to $6.5 million, and says that workers were told
that they were nothing more than a "commodity, like
soybeans... When we talked about how the company's
demands would cause our members to lose their homes or
have their cars repossessed, they looked right at us and
said, 'You are living beyond your means.'"
Beal says the union has heard that other profitable
businesses are discussing the strike and saying that if
DPS wins, they, too, will demand massive concessions.
But as Local 220's president Mike LeBerth told The New
York Times, "Corporate America is making tons of money
-- this company is a good example of that. So why do
they want to drive down our wages and hurt our
community? This whole economy is driven by consumer
spending, so how are we supposed to keep the economy
going when they take away money from the people who are
doing the spending?"
Trucks will now be pulling up to the Mott's factory gate
with this year's crop. Jim Allen, president of the New
York Apple Association, said its members will have to
cross the picket line: "When apples are ripe, they have
to be harvested, and growers will be delivering this
year's apple crop to the Mott's plant as usual... It is
not done as a sign of support or a gesture of disrespect
to either side."
According to Bruce Beal, "Our fight is with the company
and not with the farmers. They have to make a living,
too." He urged anyone interested to go the strikers
website, www.mottsworkers.org, for more information or
to contribute to their Hardship Fund. Others have
suggested a boycott of all of the Dr. Pepper Snapple
Group's products, which also include 7 Up, Hawaiian
Punch and Canada Dry.
Meanwhile, DPS refuses to come back to the bargaining
table and on Monday, August 30, the workers will mark
Day 100 of their strike. Maybe they can get the singing
apples from those vintage TV commercials to change their
tune and learn some good old-fashioned labor songs. Like
the one that asks, "Which Side Are You On?"
Michael Winship is president of the Writers Guild of
America, East, and senior writer at Public Affairs
Television in New York City.
Steve Earle Gives Up Dr. Pepper for Striking Workers
Striking members of Retail, Warehouse and Department
Store Union/UFCW (RWDSU/UFCW) Local 220 have won the
support of Grammy winner Steve Earle, who is urging Dr.
Pepper Snapple Group to negotiate a fair contract with
the Mott's workers and says that until then he will not
drink his beloved Dr. Pepper. More than 300 workers went
on strike May 23 to fight what they say is a highly
profitable company just trying to take advantage of the
weak economy by imposing wage and benefits cuts. To find
out more about their struggle for justice and how you
can help, visit www.nobadapples.com.
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