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Latest News - June 2012

June 23, 2012
Modesto ice cream company layoffs said linked to union effort
Source: The Modesto Bee
By: John Holland

Former employees have accused a Modesto ice cream manufacturer of firing them for trying to join a union.

They claim that the company, Paleteria La Michoacana, violated federal law in May by laying off the 33 workers a week before a vote was to be held on joining the Teamsters.

Owner Ignacio Gutierrez declined to comment Thursday.

Teamsters Local 853, based in San Leandro, filed the charge with the National Labor Relations Board.

"One week before the election, the employer fired every single employee in the proposed bargaining unit," said Susan Garea, an Oakland attorney representing the Teamsters. "It was egregious conduct that happened after we filed the petition for representation."

The fired employees include five drivers and two office workers at Paleteria La Michoacana's headquarters on Lapham Drive, just south of Yosemite Boulevard. Also involved are 11 drivers and five other workers at the distribution center in Gardena, Los Angeles County, and 10 drivers based in four other California cities.

Antonio Casillas, one of the former drivers in Modesto, said he sought union representation because of the company's plan to reduce wages.

"I just want to get back to work," he said.

Garea said she believes the drivers' duties have been taken up by sales and supervisory employees.

Two-month probe possible

The NLRB tries to complete investigations into charges of this type within two months, said George Velastegui, an attorney at its regional office in Oakland. Complex cases can take longer, he said.

The union election, which had been scheduled for May 21, has been suspended while the investigation is conducted.

Paleteria La Michoacana, which makes Mexican-style ice cream, has been a bright spot in the Modesto-area economy in recent years.

As of early 2011, it employed 170 people and planned to add 25, according to a Bee story. An updated number was not available Thursday.

The company reported annual sales growth of 25 percent to 30 percent from 2005 to 2010, reaching about $25 million.

Ignacio Gutierrez, a native of Mexico, started with a snow cone cart in Turlock in 1988. He founded the ice cream company there in 1991, then moved it to Modesto in 2002.

The union plans a rally outside the plant at 2 p.m. Tuesday. Organizers said it will include farmworker advocate Dolores Huerta and Jose Hernandez, the Democratic candidate for the 10th Congressional District, which includes Stanislaus and southern San Joaquin counties.



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