CHICAGO — For many years workers at Azteca Foods, a tortilla factory on the southwest side of Chicago, were represented by a corrupt company union that threatened the workers and did its best to protect the company.* Three years ago, Azteca workers began their struggle for a real union that would represent their interests. Last April 12, they won a NLRB election to form a union with UE by a vote of almost 3 to 1. They have been in contract negotiations with the company since May 14, 2002.
Azteca workers have given many years to the company. The majority have been working there more than 12 years. The majority are Spanish speaking Mexican immigrants.
Azteca workers describe their workload as being very heavy, and they work under a lot of pressure from often verbally abusive supervisors. They are concerned about the rashes, burns and workplace injuries that occur. It is a very hot and very fast paced production.
Azteca has a estimated revenue of between $30-33 million a year. Their tortillas and chips are sold in major grocery chains throughout the country, including at Jewel and Dominick’s here in Chicago. The average wage at Azteca is $9.64/hr.
Azteca workers want fair improvements in their wages, benefits and working conditions. They are seeking a fair raise, health and safety protections in the plant, improvements in their health insurance, a fair pension for retirement, union security, and respect for their years of service.
Unfortunately, this profitable company had a very different idea. They came to negotiations with a set of concessionary proposals aimed at cutting the minimal level of protections and benefits workers have had for many years. The company is seeking to cut worker’s medical and maternity leaves, take away seniority rights, expand the use of temporary workers who make around minimum wage with no benefits, ban all union newsletters from the company premises, and more.
In spite of appeals from religious and community leaders to negotiate fairly, Azteca owner millionaire Arthur Velasquez continues to demand concessions from the employees.
When workers protested the company’s proposed cuts at an informational picket outside the plant, the company threatened workers with termination for participating in the picket.
Charging that Azteca illegally violated workers rights with threats, interrogation and acts of surveillance, Azteca workers went on strike in September 2002.
In May, 2003, with charges settled (Azteca must post notices that it will obey labor law, but admits no wrongdoing), workers voted unanimously to return to work, marching together in unity to the plant office on May 5th to deliver their decision.
During the strike, not one picketer crossed the picket line. Spirits are high and workers remain united in their determination to win a fair, first UE contract.
* Azteca’s former union is run by the Duff family, who are currently under federal investigation for their temporary worker agency Windy City Temps, which was allegedly falsely registered as a minority/woman-owned business and in turn received millions in city affirmative action contracts and for receiving kickbacks from the bank where they kept union funds. John Duff Jr. spent 17 months in jail for embezzlement of union funds [return to asterisk in text]
• Azteca Foods makes millions while workers struggle to make ends meet.
• Azteca Foods wants to take away workers benefits and protections.
• Azteca Foods has violated the law with threats, intimidation and surveillance of its employees
"All we want is the respect we have earned ..."
"For all of us this struggle is about respect and dignity. We have given our lives to this company, our youth, our hard labor and Azteca Foods has grown to be large and profitable. All we want is the respect we have earned."
— Josefina Bonilla, Azteca Employee for 27 years and elected member of the UE Negotiating Committee
"We are asking for your Support"
"I make $9 an hour. It’s hard to support and educate my family on what I make at Azteca Foods. Together with my co-workers we are fighting for fair wages and benefits, as well as respect and dignity at work. But instead of appreciating our hard work, Azteca Foods is stalling our contract negotiations and wants to take away what we have. We are asking for your support to help us send a message to the owner of Azteca, Art Velasquez, that we deserve a fair contract now!"
-Juana Rosales, Azteca Foods Employee for 24 years
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