Workers Strike Against Sour Wages

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Mrs. See, with her sweet, old grandmother persona, does not evoke images of labor exploitation.

But on Friday, workers from the See's Candy factory in South San Francisco distributed flyers with a picture of Mrs. See's face, while protesting the candy company's allegedly unfair labor practices in front of its Shattuck Avenue store.

Workers said they will continue what has already been a five-week strike until their demands for higher wages and better retirement pensions have been met. Their angry flyers questioned the present values of the company and its policy towards workers.

"Would Mrs. See have treated her workers this way?" the flyer asked.

Employees at the candy factory are demanding that the starting salary be raised from the present $6.50 hourly wage.

"They call it business but you cannot live on that," said Ramon Garcia, an employee spokesperson.

In addition, workers want the pension to be raised from $950 to $1,050.

Workers also claim that the company has purposefully kept them from working more than 1,000 hours a month, so they would not meet the requirements to get medical coverage.

"They care about production, they do not care about their employees," said Connie You, a factory employee. "They never tell you when they are going to lay you off and then they just call you and say you can work again."

Negotiations between the company and the workers' union were underway last week but broke down in the face of what some workers claim to be a "greedy maneuver" that inhibits them from receiving medical benefits.

The company was not available for comment, although they issued a statement that refers to the claims of the workers as "inaccuracies and misstatements."

In response to the workers' claims over low wages, the company said that they pay wages that are higher than other companies.

"The starting hourly rate for entry level, unskilled seasonal workers is $6.50 per hour," read the statement. "However, after only 800 hours of work, the rate increased to $12.47 per hour. Many employees come back seasonally year after year because of the company's high hourly rates and other benefits."

The company also vehemently rejected workers' claims that they set any limit on the amount of hours employees work in order to deny them medical coverage.

"Eligibility for medical coverage is not based on seniority," the statement said. "See's does not lay off employees to avoid meeting the qualifications for seniority or medical insurance eligibility."

The company defended its pension plan by saying it offered "several options" to increase the pension in the collective bargaining process that were rejected by the union.

Factory employees said they are hoping that a resolution will be established soon so they can return to work. The employees receive $105 a week in strike benefits from the union.

Garcia said many of the company's employees are couples that work together at the plant and cannot rely on their spouse's income until the strike is over.

Despite workers' claims that the company is losing large amounts of profits due to the strike's timing- the holiday season being only a few months away - the company said it does not foresee any problems meeting the season's demands for this year.

Workers inside the store on Shattuck Avenue said they would not cross the picket line if employees decided to picket at their particular store.


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