Teamsters Win Election at Runaway Company in Visalia

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March 4, 2013 in Labor & Economy

On February 14, 68 employees of VWR in Visalia voted affirmatively to join Teamsters Local 948 in an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board. The election punctuates a very high profile and controversial move by the company from the Bay Area to Visalia and continues the Teamsters struggle with the company.

VWR, which [distributes laboratory equipment], was founded as a local California company, has grown into a global corporation, reporting more than $4.1 billion in sales for 2011. The Teamsters have represented VWR employees at their distribution center in Brisbane for over 50 years. For most of that time, labor-management relations were good. But when Madison Dearborn, a Chicago-based private equity firm, bought the company in 2007 things quickly changed.

In the midst of contract negotiations in 2010, VWR announced plans to close its Brisbane distribution center and move its operations 220 miles south to a new 500,000 square foot facility in Visalia. The company did not offer their employees the right to transfer.

VWR benefited from federal, state and local subsidies to open its distribution center. The City of Visalia agreed to pay VWR the $1.3 million it needed for road and sewer improvements for the facility and granted VWR a delay in paying more than $500,000 in local impact fees until April 2016.

VWR’s move was highlighted in state hearings examining [California's] Enterprise Zone program, which enables the company to secure up to $3 million in “job creation” tax credits from the State. Under the program, the company is not eligible for credits if they allowed their Brisbane employees to transfer. Last week, a dozen former VWR employees gave impassioned testimony at [an] Oakland hearing about how they have become victims of the program. They were joined by about a dozen other Teamsters who work for another company that did the same thing.

Rome Aloise, President of Teamsters Joint Council 7:

“The State of California and the City of Visalia have invested millions in VWR to help the company build their new distribution center, but they didn’t want to invest it back in their employees.”

Despite VWR’s long history of providing California workers good wages, pensions and health care, VWR offered starting wages in Visalia of $10/hour – an average $12/hour less than what Bay Area employees earned for doing the same work. With that in mind, Visalia employees contacted the Teamsters and voted overwhelmingly in favor of the union.

Adam Ochoa, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 948 in Visalia:

“Visalia VWR employees are telling the company they want equal pay for equal work. We hope that VWR will sit down with us and negotiate a fair contract.”

VWR and the City of Visalia still face ongoing environmental litigation in state and federal court, having lost in the Fifth District Court of Appeals last year and more recently when the California Supreme Court denied their motion to appeal. Attorney General Kamala Harris filed an amicus brief in support of the environmental, community, and labor plaintiffs in the case.

(Doug Bloch is the Political Director at Teamsters Joint Council 7. His post first appeared on Labor’s Edge and is republished with permission.)

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