Presidential hopefuls weigh in on threat of strike from General Mills workers

More than 500 workers at General Mills overwhelmingly voted down a contract from the company on Wednesday, drawing the attention of two presidential hopefuls. The union will go into talks with General Mills Thursday to prevent a strike.

Roger+Grobstich%2C+Vice+President+of+the+Retail+Wholesale+and+Department+Store+Union%2C+speaks+on+behalf+of+the+companies+employees+on+Wednesday%2C+November+6%2C+2019.+99%25+of+workers+have+rejected+the+offer+presented+by+the+company+and+will+discuss+with+General+Mills+tomorrow.+If+an+agreement+is+not+met+workers+may+strike.+%28Megan+Nagorzanski%2FThe+Daily+Iowan%29
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Presidential hopefuls weigh in on threat of strike from General Mills workers

Roger Grobstich, Vice President of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, speaks on behalf of the companies employees on Wednesday, November 6, 2019. 99% of workers have rejected the offer presented by the company and will discuss with General Mills tomorrow. If an agreement is not met workers may strike. (Megan Nagorzanski/The Daily Iowan)

Roger Grobstich, Vice President of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, speaks on behalf of the companies employees on Wednesday, November 6, 2019. 99% of workers have rejected the offer presented by the company and will discuss with General Mills tomorrow. If an agreement is not met workers may strike. (Megan Nagorzanski/The Daily Iowan)

Megan Nagorzanski

Roger Grobstich, Vice President of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, speaks on behalf of the companies employees on Wednesday, November 6, 2019. 99% of workers have rejected the offer presented by the company and will discuss with General Mills tomorrow. If an agreement is not met workers may strike. (Megan Nagorzanski/The Daily Iowan)

Megan Nagorzanski

Megan Nagorzanski

Roger Grobstich, Vice President of the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, speaks on behalf of the companies employees on Wednesday, November 6, 2019. 99% of workers have rejected the offer presented by the company and will discuss with General Mills tomorrow. If an agreement is not met workers may strike. (Megan Nagorzanski/The Daily Iowan)

Caleb McCullough, Politics Reporter

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General Mills workers in Cedar Rapids voted down a contract offer from the company on Wednesday, drawing the workers closer to a possible strike and gaining praise from presidential hopefuls.

Ninety-nine percent of the approximately 520 General Mills workers represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union’s Local 110 voted against the offer, and the union will go into negotiations with the company Thursday to avoid a strike.

In a news release Nov. 1, the union threatened a strike if an agreement could not be reached with General Mills. The “last, best and final” offer General Mills presented contained no significant raises, no maintenance of benefits, unfair scheduling, and subcontracting that could move jobs away from the Cedar Rapids plant, according to the release.

“General Mills Cedar Rapids facility is a leading provider of competitive pay and our paid leave benefits are best in class,” General Mills said in a statement to The Daily Iowan. “We have met with the RWDSU on many occasions to reach our common goal of a ratified contract. We remain committed to our business.”

The conflict drew attention from presidential-nomination candidates Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who both tweeted their support for the workers Wednesday night.

 

At a Nov. 2 forum hosted by Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, eight presidential hopefuls, including Harris and Buttigieg, decried the loss of labor protections in the United States and praised the role of unions in protecting workers.

“If you want to support working families in America, support organized labor,” Harris said at the event. “… And organized labor is under attack in America.”

Roger Grobstich, a vice president of the RWDSU and Cedar Rapids-area resident, said he has seen a rollback in workers’ rights in recent years, and he is glad to see presidential hopefuls talking about labor issues. He said he doesn’t support a specific candidate but is willing to listen to anybody who is sympathetic to union causes.

“We did see a couple of those tweets that were put out today,” he said. “We thank them for that, and we’re glad that they’re being so supportive.”

Tim Sarver, who has worked at General Mills in Cedar Rapids for 37 years, said the benefits for workers have gone downhill during his time at the plant.

“It’s been a gradual decline through the years, a little chip here, a little chip there, and eventually you start looking around, look back ten years and realize there’s been a lot of chipping going on,” Sarver said. “It’s slowly declining, and that’s why we’re standing up to stop this decline.”

Grobstich said he’s hopeful that the union will be able to reach an agreement with General Mills in negotiations on Thursday, but he said a strike is still an option if the parties can’t agree.

“We’ll go back, we’ll negotiate, and hopefully we can talk about our issues that are outstanding, they know those obviously, and hopefully we can be productive in those talks,” he said. “And we’ll see if they are, and if they aren’t, the company may push us to that strike zone again.”

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