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Ocean Spray workers in Wisconsin Rapids will have union vote this week

Wisconsin Rapids worker says employees want more voice in decision-making

Workers attend rally to support Wisconsin Rapids union effort
Workers held a rally outside the Ocean Spray plant in Wisconsin Rapids last week to support a unionization effort at the plant. (Photo courtesy of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 965)

Workers at an Ocean Spray plant in Wisconsin Rapids will vote this week on whether to unionize.

It will be the second time workers at the facility will hold a union vote in almost a decade. A previous attempt failed in 2014 on a 40-55 vote.

The new effort started this past fall, according to a worker at the Wisconsin Rapids plant. He spoke to WPR on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation.

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He said the organization effort came after cuts to employees’ performance bonuses and increases to mandatory overtime caused by short-staffing.

The employee said workers want to have a voice in decision-making in part because they enjoy their jobs.

“We just want to have some structure so that we can have a decent work-life balance,” he told WPR. “When we put in an honest day’s work, we want to be rewarded for it.”

Ocean Spray did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

About 94 workers at the plant will vote Thursday and Friday. If the vote is successful, they will be represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 965.

The union local primarily represents utilities and manufacturing workers in south central and central Wisconsin.

Dillon Gorman, business manager for IBEW Local 965, said the union gave workers in Wisconsin Rapids information about how to go through the unionization process and how the union could help workers improve their conditions.

Workers participate in a rally to support the unionization effort at an Ocean Spray plant in Wisconsin Rapids. (Photo Courtesy of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 965)

In a letter to Wisconsin Rapids workers, labor leaders from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, who represent Ocean Spray workers at other plants including one in Kenosha, offered “support and solidarity as you consider unionizing your plant.”

In the letter, the two unions highlighted what they saw as the benefits of unionizing, including the overtime and performance bonus protections included in the Kenosha contract.

“There’s a lot more employee involvement in Kenosha in plant operations, which I think — aside from monetary incentives to joining a union — it’s giving people a say in their workplace,” Gorman said. “That’s what a lot of people in Wisconsin Rapids are looking for.”

Gorman and the Wisconsin Rapids worker said the company has been adversarial toward the unionization effort in Central Wisconsin.

Heading into the election, the Wisconsin Rapids worker said Ocean Spray has been “intimidating and scaring” some of his colleagues and trying to convince employees to vote against unionizing.

“The company is trying to keep this a one-sided campaign,” the worker said. “They keep bombarding the employees with ‘vote no,’ and the reasons why they need to vote no.”

Gorman said he thinks if the vote is successful it could inspire similar unionization efforts at Ocean Spray facilities in Tomah and Babcock.

“It’s a domino effect,” he said. “If people see other people take that leap, they’re gonna be right behind them and join that movement.”