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By Michael Rose
Sept. 29 — The union representing workers on strike at Just Born Inc., maker of Peeps marshmallow candy, plans to file an age discrimination charge with the EEOC, a union official told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 29.
The strike began Sept. 7 at the company’s plant in Bethlehem, Pa., where about 400 workers are represented by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union.
Just Born sued the union Sept. 26, alleging that it called a strike before its collective bargaining agreement had expired.
Ron Baker, BCTGM strategic campaign coordinator, said some 85 percent of workers at the plant are over age 40 and that the age discrimination charge relates to a company pension proposal he said was “designed to make people decide whether to work into the future or force them into retirement.”
The parties met at the negotiating table Sept. 28, Baker said, but he said he couldn’t share details of what was discussed. Hank McKay, president of the BCTGM local that represents the Just Born workers, didn’t respond to a request for comment Sept. 29.
When the strike began, McKay told Bloomberg BNA that the company’s contract proposal would have eliminated workers’ pension plan and provided “substandard” wage increases.
Just Born’s lawsuit against the union, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleges that the union violated the Labor-Management Relations Act by calling a strike in the midst of ongoing negotiations.
At the end of August, the complaint alleged, the company and the union agreed to extend contract negotiations through Sept. 18, and a company official e-mailed the union to confirm a verbal agreement to the extension.
But Baker, of the BCTGM, called the lawsuit “frivolous and meritless.”
“They produced an e-mail confirming there was an extension, but it was an e-mail from them to us,” Baker said. “We never even signed an extension.”
The union also has filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board related to the strike, Baker said.
A spokesman for Just Born didn’t provide a comment on the strike or the negotiations Sept. 29.
In a statement released when the strike began, a company official said the parties disagreement stemmed from the company’s proposal to move newly hired workers to a 401(k) plan rather than have them participate in a multiemployer pension plan, which he called “unsustainable.”
In addition to marshmallow Peeps, Just Born also makes Mike and Ike, Hot Tamales and Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews. The company is privately held.
To contact the reporter on this story: Michael Rose in Washington at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at firstname.lastname@example.org
Text of the company’s lawsuit against the union is at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/JUST_BORN_INC_v_LOCAL_UNION_NO_6_BAKERY_CONFECTIONARY_TOBACCO_WOR.
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