Striking Simplot employees accept contract with guaranteed cap on hours

By Charly Haley, Grand Forks Herald
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Aug. 23--The strike is over for the J.R. Simplot Co. plant in Grand Forks.

At about 2 p.m. Friday, the union accepted a contract limiting overtime hours for employees at the potato processing plant on Gateway Drive.

The employees planned to return to work Saturday after an 18-day strike.

An "overwhelming majority" of the about 190 unionized Simplot workers voted in favor of accepting the contract, said Brian Nowak, business agent for Teamsters Local 120, which is the union representing the striking workers. About 400 people total work at the Grand Forks plant.

The main sticking point in Simplot's original contract was a change from 8-hour shifts to 12-hour shifts without a guarantee of limits on overtime, Nowak said.

The contract accepted Friday prevents the company from keeping workers for longer than two hours past their regular 12-hour shift, he said.

The resolution came after several meetings between the union and the company, with a mediator, Nowak said.

In an emailed statement, Simplot spokesperson David Cuoio said, "We are very pleased that the situation has been resolved and are glad our employees will be returning to work."

Although the 12-hour shifts are being added, most employees are satisfied with the new contract's guaranteed cap on overtime, he said.

Also, union representatives previously said there was discontent with the company's changes to employees' health insurance and retirement plans. Those areas of the new contract remain the same, Nowak said, but employees are OK with it, because controlling the 12-hour shifts was the top priority.

Employees voted to go on strike Aug. 4. Starting that night, they picketed around the clock at the Gateway Drive Simplot plant until the contract was resolved.

Grand Forks Simplot workers also went on strike in June 1999, according to Herald archives. The 11-day strike ended with the union accepting a contract with higher pay for all employees and more vacation time for some employees.

Simplot is a nationwide agribusiness operation in ranching, food processing, mining, retail and fertilizer production. The Grand Forks plant processes potatoes for French fries, tater tots and hash browns.

The company was ranked No. 61 in Forbes' list of America's largest private companies. Forbes reported that the company had $6 billion in revenue as of December 2013 and 10,000 employees worldwide.

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