SANTA FE SPRINGS, Calif. — “Don’t let them tell you we are doing something wrong. We are doing something right, we are fighting for ourselves and our children,” striker Elvia Castillo, told a rally of 90 outside Rich’s Jon Donaire Bakery here Dec. 3. The strike by 175 members of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union Local 37 began a month earlier. Most of the strikers are women.
As part of the spirited rally, workers gathered outside the plant entrance chanting in English and Spanish, “One day longer, one day stronger!” Strikers were joined by representatives of several area unions. The rally was chaired by striker Miguel Perez.
Walking the picket line with strikers earlier, they told the Militant about the conditions they face on the job and why line speed and treatment by the bosses are the big issues in this battle.
Rudy Pinales makes, pours and freezes ice cream molds that are then put into cakes. “One of the major reasons we’re on strike is speedup,” he said. “We work with cakes that are frozen — sometimes frozen together. The bosses expect us to separate them perfectly, but they can easily get broken or fall on the floor and become a safety danger because we have no time to clean them up. The line is so fast at least half of us have had to have surgeries to our hands.”
Strikers were proud to introduce us to 83-year-old Fernando Jimenez, who has worked at Rich’s since it opened in 2003. Some of the young workers explained they had learned a lot from him, from how to conduct themselves inside the plant, to discussions on the picket line. Jimenez told us, “I’m here to support and back up my workmates, so the next generation can benefit.” He agreed the lines are too fast. “I unmold 13 frozen cakes per minute. If one of the cakes breaks or gets ruined, the bosses are all over us. It’s cold, hard work, my hands and shoulders are always in pain.”
Roxana Rosales, a cake decorator, started at the plant three years ago. “At that time negotiations around the last contract were underway, and the company wanted to get rid of the union,” she said. “They offered us a 45 cent raise each year. This time they offered us 50 cents. The workers, especially the young workers, said, ‘No way!’
“We saw how many of us are incapacitated due to repetitive injuries; how they play favorites; how they give us points, even when we’re sick,” she added. “We said, if we don’t stand up now it’s only going to be worse three years from now. That’s why we’re on strike.”
Marta Montez, another cake decorator, said, “The company thought the new people would be too scared to go on strike. I thought being on strike would be sad, but with each day that we’re here, we gain more strength. We get stronger each day.”