The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Owatanna temp workers vote down union; organizers vow to keep fighting

by Madeleine Baran

Oct. 14, 2004 – Temporary migrant workers at a canning plant in rural Owatonna, Minnesota rejected joining a union yesterday.

The Lakeside Foods workers, who voted against the union 83-40, work six days a week, twelve hours a day, for between $6 and $8 an hour. They have no sick days, health insurance, or other benefits, and most are housed in small concrete buildings owned by the plant. Most are Spanish-speaking and travel from Texas to work from May to early October. By the time the election results were announced, most of the workers had returned to Texas for the season.

Organizers for the Trabajadores Unidos del Norte (UTN), or United Workers of the North, said workers were intimidated by letters the company sent in the weeks leading up to the election. The letters claimed that, if the workers voted in favor of a union, the plant could close and they could lose their jobs.

"They’re afraid of the company," union organizer and plant worker Sixto Mendoza, Jr., told The NewStandard. "But sooner or later we’ll get through to them."

Organizers plan to continue their efforts when the season begins next May. Despite the defeat, they remain optimistic. "Even the most famous people, like Cesar Chavez, didn’t win their first election," Mendoza said. "We’re going to keep trying and keep fighting."

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

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Madeleine Baran is a contributing journalist.

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