Star Fisheries Workers Strike before Christmas

  • 12/18/2015
  • Terelle Jerricks

By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

 

About 30 Star Fisheries’ drivers represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 572 went on strike a minute after midnight on Dec. 18.

Steve Badger, the Teamsters Union Local 572 business representative, called the strike. He said that the union workers have been working without a contract for 22 months, mainly because of the company’s proposals to stop paying pension benefits altogether. The company also wants to force workers to pay $400 to $600 per paycheck towards their health insurance and provide only a 35-cent per hour wage increase in a two-year deal.

Star Fisheries president Jolene DiMaggio took over the business when her husband, Anthony died in 2010.

Star Fisheries, a continuously family-owned business, was founded in 1921 by Andrew Fistonich.

Fistonich’s son-in-law Neno DiMaggio joined the company eventually took over and rapidly grew the business. Neno’s son, Anthony, followed his father into the business and became the next head of Star Fisheries.

In 1952, Louie Bozanich Sr. joined Neno at the company. His grandson, and namesake Louie, is the third generation calling Star home. Since then, the company has gone through changes that have negatively impacted union workers.

“As of today, we do not have a contract,” Badger explained.

“The owner would not come back to the table and has put a very inferior proposal on the table for us. We once had full benefits in health and welfare she (Jolene DiMaggio) came back and said, ‘We’re not going to offer that.’”

Before negotiations began, Badger said DiMaggio sent a letter to his office that thanked the union for its service but that their relationship was finished.

A significant number of the workers on the picket-line worked for the company for more than 20 years. Drivers deliver prepackaged seafood, both frozen and fresh. The seafood is packages based on the order from the store. The product could come from anywhere in the world. Anything you can imagine fish-wise. They de-bone and fillet fish here.

“She has told us at the table that she does not like the union,” Badger said.  “When her husband was alive … I had no problem getting a contract. We’d sit down together and knock the contract out in less than 30 days and we’d have a contract for three to four years…. The contract has expired, of course.”

With the exception of a short term contract negotiated with the company’s human resources manager after the elder DiMaggio passed, the union has been in an uphill battle to get a contract with the company.

Badger said the family hired a union busting legal team based in Irvine, Payne and Fears, to de-unionize the company.

“We floated an offer and it was rejected along with our strike authorization at the same time,” Badger said. “We have two contract offers, one for the dock workers and the workers that work inside, and one for the drivers. We only have eight workers inside.”

Badger also noted that the company wants to end medical benefits for its retired workers and rejected the union’s request for retro pay for the months the drivers worked without a contract.

Badger acknowledged that the retro-pay would have been expensive considering that the drivers worked considerable amount of overtime.

The company, in response, has deployed nonunion drivers to replace the striking drivers.

“She has hired scab drivers to deliver the loads,” Badger said. “They’ve restructured how they reload the trucks to make it easier. We talked to them about doing this, years ago, but now all of a sudden they could do it but couldn’t do it before.

“They are taking the trucks to another location, the scab drivers are there. They drive the trucks there and the scab drivers get in and they give the scab drivers the routes,” Badger said.

The company services Ralphs, Stater Brothers and Trader Joe’s. Badger noted that Ralphs is their biggest account.

“We don’t want to do it but she forced our hand,” Badger said.

Though the strike has been largely peaceful, tensions between management and workers are high. Badger said one of the company owners with a scab driver bumped into one of the picketing workers at about 5:30 a.m.

“The owner was on a cell phone and yelling and just acting crazy and he starts edging up as the striker crossed the crosswalk. As he edged into the crosswalk he bumped into the striker. The striker wasn’t injured,” Badger said.

The Los Angeles Port Police said they received a call regarding an alleged battery with a vehicle but there was no claim of injury. No arrest was made, but port police detectives are still investigating.

Badger noted that the Class A and bobtails drivers are already paid below the average rate for drivers in their industry. We understand that we are one of the few businesses that are union in this industry.

“We just want a deal,” Badger said. “This is bad time of year. To go on strike is a tough thing, because everybody loses. I’m not in business to break the company because that affects me and my job. I want the best for my guys. What we are asking for is a fair contract.”

Badger said his union isn’t asking for exorbitant wages.

“We’re already below the industry standard as far as our Class A drivers and our bobtail drivers,” Badger said. “We understand we are one of the few companies that is union. For 45 years, we’ve been doing pretty well,” Badger said.

The union plans to picket the company’s biggest client, Ralphs’ stores, starting Dec. 19. Picketers will be handing out informational to inform the public what’s at stake to pressure the company back to the
negotiating table.

“This is a union town, this shouldn’t be happening in San Pedro, said Lucas Valenzuela, one of the workers picketing Star Fisheries.

As of press time, the company’s legal representative, Payne & Fears LLP, did not return phone calls for comment regarding this story.

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