The state’s largest retail union has gone on strike after rejecting an offer from Holten Meats.

The United Food & Commercial Workers Local 655 formed a picket line Saturday at the company’s St. Louis area plant and extended it to 24-hour operation Monday.

Union spokesperson Garry Torpea says the major stumbling block is quality of life “scheduling” issues.  “Someone leaves employment on the day shift, and rather than allowing the people who work that middle shift to bid down to be on that early shift, the day shift. They hire people off the street.”

Torpea says Holten is ignoring the union’s policy of rewarding seniority.  The Holten Meats plant operates 24-hours-a-day, five days a week.

The late night third shift is reserved for a sanitation crew which performs stringent cleaning to comply with U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations.

The union says it’s otherwise happy with the economic portions of the contract, but Torpea says he can’t understand why the company won’t allow workers to use seniority to bid for daytime shifts.

“That’s the problem” said Torpea.  “This doesn’t require them to do any extra training.  I can’t understand why the company is holding so steadfast on this that they’re not willing to put language in the contract that would address this very issue.”

In a statement, the company said its disappointed the Union rejected what it believes is a fair contract offer to benefit all plant employees.  It also stated it presented a fair and equitable offer.

Torpea says the union tried several times to come to terms with the company with no success.

“We made several proposals, modified our proposals.  And the company continued to say ‘We will manage this through our company policy, but we will not put language in the contract to allow for that’.”

In its statement, the company said “We will strive to resolve this matter in a timely and sincere manner while continuing to deliver the service that our customers expect and deserve. We look forward to Union members returning to work following a peaceful resolution of this dispute.”

Employees rejected an earlier contract proposal from Holton by 99% and authorized a strike before both sides returned to the negotiating table and work continued at the plant.  The last offer was rejected by a 75% margin Saturday morning, after which the strike and picket line were announced.

The union extended the picket line to 24 hours daily Monday, and reported that more than 60 members had turned out to form the line.

Torpea claims no workers have crossed the line.  He acknowledged the union also represents maintenance and office workers at the plant who continue to work because their contract doesn’t expire until Saturday (3/26).

Holten Meats produces packaged frozen hamburger patties and steaks under labels such as The Cloud, Thick N Juicy and Double Red Provisions.