Chicago, Il., March, 2004 — Azteca Foods has once again been charged with abusing the rights of its employees.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), in
its latest — and strongly worded — complaint, has accused Azteca management of illegally
discriminating against union supporters and refusing to bargain with UE. The complaint, issued February 2nd in response to charges filed
by UE last fall, is the most recent development in a more than two year old battle by Azteca workers to win a union contract and a voice
on the job, including a seven month strike.
The charges revolve around the company’s efforts to undermine support for the union by putting UE Local 1159 supporters and former
strikers on night shifts and into lower-paid work classifications and by refusing to respect its legal obligations to bargain with the
Local UE leaders say workers who have been at Azteca Foods for more than twenty years are being forced to work nights instead of
their proper shifts, resulting in substantially increased stress to both their health and family lives. One employee reports that,
since he’s been forced to work a night shift, he’s had no choice but to take his kids to sleep at a babysitters house. He worries that
his wife will be forced to quit her night shift job in order to deal with their child care problems. Another worker was forced to quit
after developing physical ailments, following a number of sleepless months. Several employees were forced to choose between taking a
lower paid jobs or no job at all. They have more skills and seniority than other new employees, but are working at almost $2 less an
The NLRB charges that Azteca Foods has discriminated against union supporters “because the striking employees of [Azteca Foods]
assisted the Union and engaged in concerted activities, and to discourage employees from engaging in these activities.” The Board
further asserts that Azteca “has been discriminating” in regard to hiring, firing and working conditions in order to discourage union
membership and that Azteca “has been failing and refusing to bargain collectively with the exclusive collective-bargaining
representative of its employees”.
Solidarity vs. Arrogance
Despite intense harassment from management, Azteca workers continue their struggle for a fair first contract. Workers have taken on
the company over its discriminatory practices. Just days after the Labor Board issued its most recent allegations that Azteca has been
acting illegally, Azteca management moved another striker from first shift to second, blatantly disregarding the Board’s charges. This
forced the employee to leave her 13 year old son home alone until she could return from work after 11:30pm. Groups of outraged workers
protested to management in with solidarity and volume that the company informed the Board that it planned to return the worker to her
correct day shift immediately.
In an ironic twist to this ongoing battle, Azteca hired a workplace psychologist to help it understand why workers are so angry. In
meetings with this psychologist, workers explained repeatedly that they expected Azteca and its owner, Art Velasquez, to negotiate a
fair contract that does not include takeaways in their wages and benefits. They argued that they are tired of abuse and discrimination
and want Mr. Velasquez to respect their rights under the law. Instead of listening to these complaints, Mr. Velasquez opted out of
these meetings, just as he has refused to attend contract negotiations.
Azteca Foods has so far refused to settle the charges listed in the complaint regarding discrimination and failure to negotiate
with the UE. A hearing on the complaint has been set for June. This is the third complaint issued by the NLRB against Azteca in the