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Lamb Weston

ConAgra Food’s Lamb Weston potato-processing plant is seen on Feb. 11, 2015, in Twin Falls.

TWIN FALLS — Employees at Lamb Weston say there is palpable tension at the Twin Falls plant ahead of a vote today and Saturday to determine whether they will be represented by a Boise union.

In a months-long dispute between the company and Teamsters Local Union 483, employees on both sides of the issue have flung accusations of harassment and intimidation at the workplace and online.

Workers in the middle have been left to wonder whether it is union supporters or the company itself engaging in intimidation or harassment.

Meanwhile, the union filed charges this week claiming Lamb Weston is participating in unfair labor practices — charges Lamb Weston says are untrue.

“We work hard to build a positive working environment, and we value the contributions of all our team members,” Lamb Weston spokeswoman Shelby Stoolman said in a statement. “We believe these allegations are false, and the claims made about our working environment are a purposeful misrepresentation.

“We are confident that we’ve operated within the regulations and guidelines set forth by the NLRB, and we’ll cooperate fully with any investigation into the complaints.”

Voting takes place Thursday and Saturday to determine whether the majority of employees at the plant want union representation.

“It’s tense, very tense,” Lamb Weston employee Lisa Powell told the Times-News on Wednesday.

For Powell, who opposes having a union, the confrontations have not been at work, but have been especially noticeable on social media pages.

In one Facebook group, Teamsters Local Union 483 Director of Representation Darel Hardenbrook posted a comment: “How many felony sex convictions do the anti-union employees have?” The post later appeared to have been taken down.

But other employees have reported issues in the workplace itself. Hardenbrook has gathered dozens of pages of testimony from employees saying they have been taken into supervisors’ offices and questioned about their union membership.

The union charges that Lamb Weston has threatened to retaliate against employees if they joined or supported union — and has interrogated employees about union activities. Iranian immigrants, specifically, are being targeted, Hardenbrook said.

John Harding, a mechanic in the processing area, argues there is a lot of misrepresentation of the truth on the side of the union, and earlier allegations of intimidation are unfounded. He said he will vote against the union because he feels the pay scale and benefits are fair, and he prefers an incentive-based versus a seniority-based pay scale.

One employee posted a petition in the employee breakroom for those united in voting “no” on the union.

“It was quite shortly vandalized by the pro-union folks,” Harding said.

Jason Samargis, a vocal union supporter, denies allegations that the union and its supporters are intimidating others. In a mandatory employee meeting, he said, a firm Lamb Weston hired presented arguments against the Teamsters and unionization.

When he tried to ask questions, he said two supervisors told him his questions didn’t matter and were irrelevant. One supervisor allegedly leaned in to him and said “It’s OK, sweetie” before making a kissing noise.

“They’re blaming me for the union (vote),” he said. “I’m not going to get scared. There’s nothing to be scared of.”

The Teamsters filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board this week after attempts to contact the county prosecutor were unreturned, Hardenbrook said.

“These violations that have occurred have served to chill the free will of these employees,” he said.

Additional charges after the union vote will likely not be brought up unless the company acts to terminate a union supporter, he said.

The vote outcome will be made known to employees following its close Saturday, Samargis said.

“I think it’s a 50-50 chance right now.”

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