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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 — A Boise-based union says Lamb Weston has brought in a “union-busting firm” to illegally intimidate and coerce workers at its Twin Falls plant.

Lamb Weston employees will vote next month on whether they want to be represented by Teamsters Local Union 483, affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Employees say a firm has been harassing them — particularly immigrant workers — while they are on duty, and put out anti-union flyers.

Lamb Weston says the company respects its employees’ right to vote and hired a firm to educate them about the company’s stance. But that’s not the story told by employees such as Conley Dyer, a forklift operator who was pulled off the floor Monday and questioned about his support of the union.

“They tried to intimidate me,” he said. “... I think they’re trying to instill fear.”

A coworker from Iran had been told the plant would close if the union vote passes, Dyer said.

Lamb Weston denied these and similar allegations in an emailed statement.

“We do not think union representation would be advantageous to our employees, and have communicated this to them,” spokeswoman Shelby Stoolman said. “The legal regulations established by the Labor Relations Board allow us to communicate with employees about our stance on the petition within specific guidelines, which we closely follow. We do not threaten or intimidate our employees in any way.”

This is not the first attempt Lamb Weston employees have made to unionize, Teamsters Local Union 483 Director of Representation Darel Hardenbrook said.

During a last attempt several years ago, he said, the company paid Craft Barresi Consultants $300,000 to talk to employees. Union representation never came to an employee vote.

Lamb Weston would not disclose the details of its current arrangement with the firm, which employees believe once again to be Craft Barresi Consultants.

“We’ve hired the consulting firm to assist our management team in answering questions for our employees so they can make a fully informed decision on election day,” Stoolman said.

Since Idaho adopted right-to-work laws in the 1980s, union membership in the state has declined. This legislation prohibits companies from requiring union membership as a condition for employment.

Teamsters Local Union 483 has grown its membership by 40 percent over the past 18 months, Hardenbrook said. It represents employees in Idaho’s Treasure Valley, Magic Valley and Wood River Valley.

The union has received a stipulated election agreement for representation, and employees at Lamb Weston will vote July 13 and July 15. The vote needs 50 percent, plus one, to pass.

Dyer says the firm has gone beyond informing employees of the company’s stance.

“It’s gotten to where it’s more personal,” he said.

Jason Samargis, an employee of 18 years, said several of his coworkers have been approached at work and were reportedly told they could lose their health care benefits or future raises if the vote passes.

The conflict has been going on for months. Employees Drew Jones and Shawn Gifford said in written statements that in early February, they were pulled into supervisor Xavier Bell’s office and interviewed about their stance on unionization.

“They’re approaching you all over the place,” Samargis said. “They’re separating and conquering. I think it’s at the level of intimidating and harassing.”

Teamsters Local Union 483 Organizer Dale Varney said this violates Idaho law and the National Labor Relations Act.

Wanting representation

Lamb Weston isn’t the same company Samargis joined 18 years ago.

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He says he never receives advanced notice before he’s told to stay another four hours at the end of his shift. His pay has been decreased and “human resources changes their policies with an email or a text.”

“People who have been there for 20 years have been packing up and leaving, even for lower-paying jobs,” he said.

Others are concerned about health and safety policies.

“I’ve watched so many people get fired because their kids are sick and they had to take off work,” Dyer said, adding that Lamb Weston does not provide paid sick leave.

When an employee is hurt on the job, he or she is told to go to an on-site nurse and to use worker’s compensation as a last resort, Dyer said.

One employee said he was not provided with medical care until 2 ½ days after he was severely burned on the job.

Hardenbrook said the union would advocate for fair wages and safety measures that are adhered to. While even non-union members would benefit from the representation, a membership would grant a higher level of legal representation and accidental death and dismemberment service.

Monthly membership costs twice an employee’s hourly rate if he or she makes $11 per hour or less — and 2½ times the hourly rate if he or she makes more than that.

The Teamsters say they are working hard to combat misinformation that has been going around before the vote takes place.

“A lot of people are still wanting change,” Samargis said. “But they’re scared.”

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