CHICAGO (AP) _ Oscar Mayer Food Corp. on Monday began employing temporary workers at its meat-packing plant to replace hundreds of union personnel locked out after they rejected a new contract containing a 10-month wage freeze.
Plant manager Allen Dieter said about 45 new employees began work, and that the company will hire about 35 or 40 a day until the plant reaches full operating capacity.
He said the plant, which packages weiners, bacon and lunch meat, was currently operating at 5 percent to 8 percent capacity.
Members of Local 100 of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents 685 plant employees, on Sunday voted 367-146 to reject a contract that would have frozen wages and benefits for 10 months.
With wages of $10.67 an hour, workers at the plant are among the highest- paid meat-packers in the nation, said Steve Tarnowski, vice president of the local.
Walter Piotrowski, a spokesman for the local, said the union wanted a much longer extension that eventually would have resulted in contracts expiring at about the same time at the company’s plants in Chicago, Madison, Wis. and Davenport, Iowa.
Contracts at the Wisconsin and Iowa plants, where wages are $10 an hour, are scheduled to expire on Aug. 31 and negotiations for new contracts are expected to begin about then, he said.
By arranging it so contracts at all three plants would eventually expire at about the same time, union representatives at the three plants could negotiate jointly with the company, Piotrowski said.
A few days before the vote, Piotrowski had called the company offer an ″exceptional victory.″ But after the union met Sunday, one worker said few union members supported the proposal.
″There were some speeches at the meeting, but only one in favor,″ said Alan Rausch. ″The contract offered no assurance that our wages would not be cut at the end of those 10 months.″
The meat-packing industry has changed in recent years because of bankruptcies, employers’ attempts to lower wages, growth of nonunion firms and increased competition.
As a result, the general trend in the industry has been to reduce wages, Tarnowski said.
Oscar Mayer cut its wage at the Chicago plant from $10.69 to $8.25 in 1984, but the company reinstated the old rate last year when a federal appeals court ruled the cut was a violation of the contract with the union. Two cents were deferred to other benefits.
Dieter said those locked out at the Chicago plant include 153 mechanical employees, among them electricans and pipefitters, and 532 production employees. He said most of the temporary workers hired Monday were working in sanitation and maintenance.
The old contract at the Chicago plant expired May 31.
All but 60 workers were laid off June 16 after employees turned down two separate offers. Oscar Mayer had asked to freeze pay for three months, and then requested a $10 hourly wage currently paid at the other two plants.
Both sides said they are willing to re-open negotiations, but no new talks were scheduled.