Fresh Mark workers receive fresh deal

SALEM – Union workers at the Fresh Mark meat-packing plant recently ratified a new four-year contract which includes yearly wage increases and a slight increase to weekly co-pays for medical benefits.

Allen Mayne, a representative for the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union Mid South Council, said the union represents 750 to 800 workers in production, maintenance and sanitation at the Salem plant at 1735 S. Lincoln Ave.

A press release issued by the RWDSU said the company and union spent three weeks negotiating the terms and conditions of employment at Fresh Mark Salem, with Mayne noting the previous four-year contract had been extended by a week. The new contract took effect Monday, the day after workers gathered at the Salem High School auditorium to vote. He said it was a close vote, but said he couldn’t release the numbers.

“The contract provides for increased medical benefits while maintaining a fair weekly co-pay cost for the employees,” the press release said. “Given the high costs of health care and the added pressures of required changes mandated by the government’s health care reform, the union felt that the settlement concerning the medical benefits was one of the most important parts of the package for the union members.”

According to Mayne, the weekly co-pay costs for employees for single coverage increased from $4 per week to $6 per week and the cost for family coverage increased from $8 per week to $18 per week.

In the area of wages, he said workers will see an increase of 30 cents per hour in the first year of the contract, 25 cents per hour in the second year, 15 cents per hour in the third year and a lump sum payment of $800 in the fourth year.

The union press release said “in an economy where a lot of companies are freezing wages or even cutting wages it is good to see a company that is still providing wage increases for its employees. While the members would have liked to see higher wage increases, the membership in the end approved the contract as proposed.”

Mayne said there were minor language changes to the contract dealing with daily practices in the day-to-day operation and the overtime structure. The press release said the changes “reflect many concerns of the membership addressing daily practices in the plant that are designed to clarify procedures and improve conditions for the employees.”

“The union members have been happy to see the continued steady growth of the company during these tough economic times, and seek to share in its success. The employees of Fresh Mark work very hard every day to supply good wholesome family food products. The members of the union are extremely proud of the work that they do and the products that they supply to consumers,” the union press release said.