Eye on Santa Rosa: Strikers Face Evening Deadline

AP Texas News
Nov. 25, 2007, 11:21AM
Sugar workers strike at South Texas mill

SANTA ROSA, Texas — Representatives for the Rio Grande Valley Sugar cooperative gave striking field workers a Sunday evening deadline to respond to its offer.

Negotiations between the cooperative and workers on strike from the Santa Rosa Sugar Mill ended Saturday without an agreement.


Strike at sugar mill remains unresolved
By CHARLENE VANDINI/Valley Morning Star
November 23, 2007 – 11:46PM

SANTA ROSA — Attorneys for striking sugar mill workers and management ended a meeting Friday without an agreement to send truck, harvester and tractor drivers back to work.

Both sides plan to meet again today to resume negotiations.

The sugar mill workers walked out early Wednesday, striking to receive bonuses that they said management promised them.

Jose Torres, assistant to the workers’ attorney at Texas Rural Legal Aid, said management was given a pay raise proposal that would increase workers’ hourly pay by 30 percent.

Truck drivers and harvester drivers are now paid $9.60 per hour; tractor drivers are paid $8.65 per hour after a 3 percent raise went into effect on Oct. 1, said attorney Raymond Cowley, who represents the Rio Grande Valley Sugar cooperative.

The workers’ proposal would increase pay to $15 per hour for the truck and harvester drivers and $13 per hour for the tractor drivers, Torres said.

“We consider it a positive step that they’re willing to put a counteroffer on the table,” Torres said. “We think this matter can be resolved if everyone keeps an open mind. It’s all part of the negotiation process of give and take.”

But Cowley said the proposal is “far in excess of what we could pay,” adding that another wage increase is unlikely.

“Given the economic situation, there’s a limited amount that can be done,” he said.

Cowley said that management may replace striking workers who do not voluntarily return to work. The mill is now advertising for new workers in local newspapers.

But, he added, “we’re not at a point where we’ve given them a deadline to return to work or be replaced.”

The sugar cane harvest has begun, he said, and the striking workers should be moving the cane from the fields to the mill. Delaying the harvest could diminish the quality of the cane.

“We understand that (management) has want ads in the newspapers,” Torres said. “But it takes time to train new workers.”

The striking workers are not planning to return to work until an agreement is reached, Torres said. New hires would not have the same high level of productivity as the striking workers, he said.

“Some (striking workers) are longtime workers, some with 10 to 20 years of experience,” Torres said. “It takes time to train new workers.”

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