Workers at Oscar Mayer plant in Wisconsin's Dane County ratify new four-year contract in which union members will receive US$1.40-an-hour wage increase over next four years

MADISON, Wisconsin , July 2, 2014 () – Employees of Dane County's largest manufacturer have a new contract, more than six months after their last pact expired.

Workers at the Oscar Mayer meat-processing plant, 910 Mayer Ave., voted Monday to approve the four-year contract by "well more than a majority," said Doug Leikness, president of United Food & Commercial Workers Local 538. The union represents about 650 employees.

Leikness declined to disclose the vote count. The contract, which takes effect immediately, is retroactive to Dec. 8, when the last pact expired.

Leikness said union members will receive a $1.40-an-hour increase over the next four years. The current average pay is $16.35 for factory production and sanitation workers and more than $20 an hour for maintenance staff.

With the raise, "they're higher wages than any time I've been here," said Leikness, a third-generation Oscar Mayer employee who has worked for the company for 29 years.

Pension benefits will change. Union members currently get both a company-funded pension and a 401K retirement account, part of which the company matches. With the new contract, monthly payments to pension accounts for current employees will increase but new employees will not be eligible for the pension, only the 401K.

Oscar Mayer officials said they are pleased the union approved the contract.

"We worked hard to put together a fair package that provides us greater flexibility to be a more productive and cost-effective plant. It's our goal to continue to offer market-leading manufacturing jobs while ensuring we have the flexibility we need," said Oscar Mayer spokeswoman Sydney Lindner.

Employees will get two $500 bonuses in January 2015 -- one for ratifying the contract, the other because the employee cafeteria will close Jan. 1. The current hot entrees, made-to-order sandwiches and salad bar will be replaced by a 24-hour-a-day, self-service Market Cafe, with packaged foods from Aramark, Lindner said.

"In recent years, employees have expressed interest in simpler foods and lighter fare. In addition, our second- and third-shift teams, as well as weekend employees in the plant, have asked for on-site food options beyond the current vending machine offerings," she said.

Fifteen employees of parent company Kraft Foods will lose their jobs in the cafeteria but will be eligible for bumping rights for other union-represented positions or will get enhanced retirement benefits, Lindner said.

The four-year plan does not include any promise to keep the plant open or keep Oscar Mayer headquarters in Madison. But union chief Leikness said he doesn't worry about that.

"I don't. I try not to, anyway," he said.

Leikness said he doesn't think the plant will close any time soon. "I'm not hearing it. I don't feel it," he said.

Kraft, of Northfield, Illinois, and its Oscar Mayer division have 1,200 employees in Madison.

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