April 2011

Organizing Wire
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A Toast to Idaho Malt Workers after Two-Year
Organizing Fight

Workers at an Idaho malt and barley plant emerged victorious in February in their two-year-long struggle for union representation.

More than 20 employees at the InteGrow Malt plant—located in Idaho Falls—were officially certified as members of Pocatello Local 449 after first voting for a voice on the job with the IBEW in the fall of 2009.

The plant processes malted barley for use in brewing beer.

Workers voted union by an overwhelming majority in a National Labor Relations Board-supervised election, but management appealed.

The company—which is jointly owned by the international food giant Cargill and the Grupo Modelo brewery of Mexico—also dragged employees through lengthy unit determination meetings, trying to peel union supporters out of the bargaining unit.

The board rejected the company's arguments, but the endless legal wrangling was successful in stalling the campaign.

"Management was very anti-union," says Local 449 Business Manager Robert Bodell. "They threw every hurdle they could think of to slow us down."

Despite the many obstacles—leading to four unfair labor practice charges being filed against the company—workers stuck together throughout.

"Even though they had no experience with unions, the group stayed strong," said Local 449 Organizer Mike Miera, who said Eighth District International Representative Rocky Clark was helpful on the campaign. "The solidarity they showed in the face of overwhelming adversity was amazing."

Employees' main complaint was management's arbitrary work schedule changes, putting workers on a six-day work week without consultation with the shop floor.

The five-year-old plant was built by Local 449 inside construction members, so when deciding to join a union, InterGROW workers went straight to the IBEW.

Negotiations on a first contract kicked off in March.