SuperMom’s drivers locked out in labor disputeLockout comes as union representing bakery's delivery drivers, owner Northern Tier Energy negotiate new labor contract. Company says wages "not competitive;" while union says company not negotiating in good faith.
Almost two-dozen delivery drivers for St. Paul Park's SuperMom's bakery have been locked out of their jobs after labor negotiations between the union representing them and the company's Connecticut-based owners broke down Friday.
Northern Tier Energy — the company that owns SuperMom's, the St. Paul Park refinery and SuperAmerica gas stations and convenience stores — escorted drivers working an early morning shift from the SuperMom’s facility, according to members of Teamsters Local 120, the union that represents the operation’s 22 drivers, and notified the remaining drivers they should not report for work Friday, drivers interviewed said.
The union's latest three-year labor contract with Northern Tier Energy expired Aug. 9. According to a copy of Northern Tier Energy’s final offer presented to union members Thursday and obtained by the Bulletin, the company is seeking a wage freeze for some drivers and to reduce top-scale wages for others. Union leaders said those changes would bring the wage ceiling down from more than $20 per hour to around $16.
Changes to overtime pay structure not specified in the document are also proposed.
A Northern Tier Energy spokeswoman could not be reached for comment.
Mike Cich, a driver from White Bear Lake who has been with the company for 11 years, was one of nearly a dozen who picketed outside the St. Paul Park bakery on a humid Friday afternoon, the smell of glazed doughnuts lingering in the sticky air along Broadway Avenue. Cich said he and other union members had begun to sense something was coming after the company’s final proposal was rejected Thursday.
“There’s  of us. We can’t possibly be draining this company of money,” he said, standing outside the production facility’s chain-link gate under the watch of nearby security guards. “It doesn’t add up unless they’re trying to break the union.”
In a letter to union members dated Aug. 23, Northern Tier Plant Manager Tom Haertl wrote that at current wage rates the company is “paying $3 to $4 above the average [wage for a similar job] and this fact contributes to our not being competitive and providing a return to our investors.”
Brad Slawson, Jr., president of the Teamsters Local 120, disputed that assertion in a phone interview, saying “a company that’s making billions” is proposing to drive wages for SuperMom’s drivers below the level of the state’s median earners.
Union officials had expected to resolve the contract dispute before Friday’s lockout, he said, an occurrence Slawson, Jr., called “pretty rare.”
“We want [Northern Tier Energy] to come back to the table and negotiate, in good faith, a contract that would fit the needs of the employees and the company,” he said, “[and] not just the company.”
Northern Tier Energy acquired the St. Paul Park refinery, and SuperAmerica and SuperMom’s retail operations, for $935 million from Marathon Petroleum Co. in December 2010. SuperMom's supplies baked goods to SuperAmerica stores across Minnesota, Wisconsin and South Dakota.
The ongoing labor negotiation marks the first between the union and Northern Tier since the company's acquisition. In 2006, refinery workers represented by Teamsters Local 120 went on strike over a contract dispute with then-owner Marathon, saying changes proposed by the company jeopardized worker safety.
Picketers interviewed Friday said they believed the company was using replacement drivers to distribute SuperMom’s baked goods to SuperAmerica’s across the area, shuttling them to the St. Paul Park facility from a vacant nightclub parking lot along Highway 61. Slawson, Jr., nor company officials, could confirm that, but white passenger vans could be seen coming and going from the facility Friday afternoon, when drivers said the bulk of their shifts typically began.
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