Reposted from Union City Patch
- By Zoneil Maharaj
- January 9, 2012
Tensions flared at the American Licorice factory Monday as protesters associated with the Occupy Oakland movement joined the month-old factory workers’ strike, blocking entrances and turning away delivery trucks.
According to protesters, about 100 protesters were onsite between 5 and 6 a.m. and had helped turn away three freight delivery trucks in the morning before local police were sent to escort vehicles into the factory lot. Many of the protesters had dispersed by noon, when only a dozen remained on scene.
Protesters also said that the owner of the company, as well as the head of security and several employees, were forced to use a rear entrance to get into the facilities.
“We’re forcing the people who consider this to be their domain to sneak through the back door, which I think is shameful,” said Occupy protester Shon Kay, 32, of Oakland.
Kay, a musician and former farmer, said he’d been coming to the American Licorice picket line for the last couple of weeks but that the Occupy Oakland Labor Solidarity Council agreed last weekend to hold a more organized and concentrated effort Monday in Union City.
“Occupy Oakland has evolved,” Kay said. “We see any situation in our area where people are being scared by the One Percent, and if we have time for it, we’re going to help.”
Monday’s Occupy action was not officially endorsed by the Bakery Workers Union Local 125, which represents American Licorice’s employees, said union vice president Rene Castillo.
Those blocking the entrances and shouting at drivers, employees and security were primarily Occupy protesters. According to Union City police, several protesters had also attempted to crawl under incoming trucks and climb onto the hoods.
“We have no problem if they’re supporting us, but it’s not endorsed by us,” Castillo said. “We can’t hold them back or stop what they do.”
Monday also marked the first negotiation meeting between the local union and licorice company.
A meeting began at 10 a.m. Monday morning at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service office in Oakland and lasted until the afternoon. The details of those discussions have not yet been released.
Castillo could not comment on the day’s discussion but said that all American Licorice employees would join union leaders and the company at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at the same location.
The strike began at midnight Dec. 5 when all 178 employees left the factory in protest of what they say are unfair medical benefits. The Union City factory manufactures their popular Red Vines candy. Factory workers have since remained on the picket line 24/7, through cold weather, rain and what they say are rude and disrespectful security guards.
According to factory workers, security at the factory has become increasingly hostile as the strike has progressed.
Workers said that a guard shoved two elderly women and shouted racist slurs, calling one woman a derogatory term for a Mexican immigrant.
While the strike has remained peaceful, Monday’s actions by Occupy protesters resulted in several police officers being called to the scene.
“It was a little tense in the morning,” said Cmdr. Ben Horner of the Union City Police Department. “The workers know what they can and can’t do.”
Horner said police were brought in to ensure safety. “We didn’t want anyone getting hurt,” he said.
“Prior to today, there hasn’t been any threat of violence,” Horner said. “This is a Union City issue. There are a lot of families that work there, and they’re doing their best to negotiate. Hopefully it will work out.”
But factory workers said they’re grateful that their issue is receiving greater attention and support from the Occupy Movement.
“We’re happy. We want more Occupy people to come,” said Victor Nguyen, 47, who has worked at the factory for 14 years.
Occupy protesters came in and out throughout the day, with popular Occupy video blogger OakFoSho live streaming the protest.
Union leaders said they didn’t feel that the day’s actions were counterproductive to the federal mediation held that day.
“You’re seeing the American public, the working class who are tired of corporate America. They’re just tired of being attacked,” said Oscar Hernandez, a business agent for the Bakery Workers Union Local 24 in Redwood City, who were holding the line for the local union. “Whether we support it or don’t support it, it’s just a reality of life.”
Calls to the company for comment were not immediately returned Monday.