2007-05-18 / Community

Little Movement in Madelaine Lock Out

Federal Mediator Involved, Two Sides Far Apart
By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

More than 500 employees of Madelaine Chocolate Novelties remain locked out of their jobs as the labor dispute between the management and its workers ends its second week with little movement, labor union officials say.

Jim Gangle, a Business Manager for UPSEU, Local 1222, told The Wave on Thursday that a federal mediator had entered the talks and has been shuffling between labor and management in an attempt to find some common ground.

That does not include adding any salary or benefits to the contract that union members turned down May 11, precipitating the lockout by management that remains in force today.

Avi Borenstein, a New Jersey attorney who is the spokesperson for the management of the chocolate company, does not agree.

"Even now, Madelaine has been prepared to sit down with a federal mediator and to revisit the discussions and see if there is a middle ground. All Madelaine asked for was a pledge from the union that it would not strike for a year while these discussions were ongoing, and then all of the employees would immediately be recalled to work," Borenstein said. "That was not good enough for the union. Local 1222 would not agree to a one year cessation of striking or lockouts and a continuation of all benefits, as proposed by Madelaine, to allow the sides to sit down with a federal mediator and see if there was possible room to discuss a resolution. Once again, the union said 'no' to a reasonable and fair proposal from Madelaine." Gangle disputed that company claim.

"There have been no offers by management since the day we were locked out," Gangle said. "While they have made an offer through the mediator to get us back to work that would require that we promise not to strike for a year, we didn't accept that because a year is a long time. We would accept that deal if it involved a shorter period of time, and the mediator is working on that." One worker on the line in front of the Beach 96 Street plant, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation by the company, said that the workers could not accept the year's cooling-off period because that would include no increase of pay or benefits for that period of time.

"We are not on strike. All we want is fair pay, and they locked us out of the building," the woman, who has worked for the company for more than 25 years and earns $8.48 an hour, said. "We just want to go back to work under a fair contract. That is what we have wanted all along." The worker charged that the lockout was precipitated by money as much as by the union's refusal to accept their last offer.

"This is the slow season, when new workers are generally laid off for a while anyway," the worker said. "It is after Mother's Day and Easter and about two months before they gear up for the Christmas Season. Doing this now saves them lots of money and does not harm their business. They are in no rush to get back to production."

As for the company, Borenstein says that they are sticking to that last contract offer. "Madelaine and Local 1222 bargained for over three months in consistent and intense sessions to arrive at a new three-year contract to replace the one that expired on March 31," he said. "A new contract was agreed upon and a signed Memorandum of Understanding was entered reflecting the terms of that agreement. The union then presented it to the membership and the membership refused to ratify it."

"It is clear [to management] that Local 1222 attempted to double-cross Madelaine by agreeing to a deal in writing and then presenting it to the membership in such a fashion as to undercut the deal and cause the members to vote it down," Borenstein added."

Gangle, however, says that management presented the union negotiators with a "final offer" that was then taken to the workers, who turned it down.

"At this point, we are hoping that we are nearing the point where the management will allow the workers to go back to work and then to sit down with the union and the federal mediator to work things out as quickly as possible. That is what we want and that is all we ever wanted."

Workers and union officials in front of the Madelaine Chocolate Novelties Plant on Beach 96 Street and Beach Channel Drive on Wednesday.

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