October 2, 2016
By Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
Suffolk, VA – Fed up with a “lean production” business model that forced them to work 70 to 90 hours a week, workers at Lipton’s tea factory here brewed up a steaming pot of union.
In late August, they voted 108-79 to join United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400. Frustration at the plant, which supplies Lipton’s entire North American market, had been boiling for the past three years. After it was closed for renovations in 2013, the company forced all workers to reapply for their jobs, and then demanded mandatory overtime from what one mechanic called the “skeleton crew” that remained. As workers quit because of the punishing schedule, the company abolished sick days and demanded more overtime from the ones still there—reaching 12-hour shifts 13 days in a row, followed by one day off. “That was the nail in the coffin for the majority of us,” said mechanic Robert Davis. “They threw it on us with no remorse.” They are now preparing to negotiate a first contract. Read more