Darigold Inc., Seattle, disputed the assertion made by the Teamsters today that it walked out of federal mediation talks late Monday night. Darigold General Counsel and Senior Vice President Steven Rowe told Dairy Foods that some members of the dairy cooperative's team did leave the meeting but continued to participate by telephone after they arrived home. Rowe said the bargaining session lasted from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
A press release from Teamsters Local 117 today said Darigold's action set "the stage for a potential lockout or strike at the company’s production facilities in Issaquah and Seattle." Teamsters 117 represents 220 workers at the two plants.
Rowe said the parties have made "great progress" and have agreed on wages. The sticking point is health care. Rowe said union members are currently paying 5% of health care costs. Darigold has assured the union that they would not pay more than 10%. Rowe added that non-union employees (including himself) are paying far more than 5%.
According to a Teamsters' press release, "talks broke down when Darigold insisted on significantly increasing the amount workers pay for their health care. On August 18, the workers voted 130-1 to authorize a strike. "
“They want to undermine our health care,” said Henning Jensen, a 25-year employee. “Nobody wants to strike, but we will stand our ground and do what we need to do to protect our families’ well-being.”
"We're a co-op owned by dairy farmers. I have tremendous respect for the people who work in our plants and respect for my owners," Rowe said.
Darigold is owned by the Northwest Dairy Association, consisting of 525 dairy farmers. Darigold ranks No. 14 on the Dairy 100, Dairy Food's annual ranking of the top dairy processors based in the United States and Canada. The co-op reported revenues of $2.2 billion in the year ended March 2013.