The Humboldt Creamery plant in Fernbridge. | Wikimedia Commons.

The 84 unionized employees at the Humboldt Creamery plant in Fernbridge are prepared to strike after voting to reject the latest contract offer from the company’s parent corporation, Foster Farms, which purchased the local dairy collective in 2009.

Local workers are being paid significantly less than their counterparts at the Crystal Creamery plant in Modesto, according to a letter written by Humboldt Creamery employee Dale Wohlwend on behalf of himself and his Humboldt County-based coworkers. (Crystal Creamery is also a subsidiary of Foster Farms.) The letter was sent Wednesday to Foster Farms’ CEO and the mediator in the ongoing contract negotiations.

“Humboldt County employees may wear the same uniform, but we certainly are not being remunerated the same as Modesto employees,” the letter states.

Wohlwend told the Outpost today that there was a “landslide vote” among members of General Teamsters Local number #137 Thursday night, with about 88 percent voting to strike unless management offers a better deal.

The letter alleges that skilled and experienced employees at the Fernbridge plant are making less than a junior clerk in Modesto, who brings in just over $19 per hour. “Foster Farms has no legitimate defense for the discrepancy in wages,” the letter says. “There is no statistical difference in the cost of living between here in Humboldt County and there in Modesto.”

Asked for a comment on the letter and its allegations, a company spokesman sent the following statement, which he said should be attributed to Humboldt Creamery:

We take great pride in our excellent relationship with our employees and the union and we have a long history of successfully negotiating agreements with our employees. We will not negotiate in public but look forward to working together to reach an agreement that is fair to both parties.

According to the employee letter, Foster Farms is offering local workers a raise of $1.30 per hour over the next three years, but the workers say that with increased payroll deductions for medical coverage, they would wind up making less per hour than under the current contract. They also say that employees with extra training and responsibilities aren’t financially rewarded for their knowledge and experience.

Wohlwend forwarded lists of wages for different types of employees at both the Fernbridge and Modesto plants, and according to those documents local workers do indeed make 10-to-20 percent less than their Central Valley cohorts in most positions.

The situation is having a negative effect on morale. “Employees who learn that they are being paid unfairly become frustrated and even demoralized or angry,” the letter says. “[W]e feel management treats us like red-headed stepchildren.”

You can read the full letter below.

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DOCUMENT: Letter to mediator and negotiating committee from Humboldt Creamery employees