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Pictsweet threatens to close plant in Salem

In early September, Pictsweet announced they will be closing their Salem Mushroom plant in mid-November. We see this action as union-busting...
In early September, Pictsweet announced they will be closing their Salem Mushroom plant in mid-November. We see this action as union-busting, as the company has steadfastly refused to negotiate with workers in the plant who have demanded union recognition. At the same time, workers have expressed their doubt about the veracity of this claim, suspecting Pictsweet may simply close down and reopen with a new, nonunion workforce.

We are working on two fronts. First, we are working to identify potential buyers to come in and take over operations of the plant. Second, we are working to assure workers receive the full extent of benefits possible available to them. At a general membership meeting last night, workers remain united and clearly blame Pictsweet for the looming potential loss of their jobs. Javier Velazquez, who was fired back in March, said; "As Pictsweet workers, we're proud of the movement we've organized and the fact that we've sent a strong message to Pictsweet that we're not going to tolerate their abuse."

Pictsweet has stated that it will not provide any severance packages for workers. Many workers have worked at the plant for 5-15 years, some as long as 27 years. The editorial which ran in the Sept. 20th Statesman Journal and appears below, chastizes the company for this failure.

At the time of this announcement, Safeway, Fred Meyer, Nature's Fresh Northwest had all ceased purchasing Pictsweet Mushrooms. In addition, food service giant Food Service of America also no longer purchases Pictsweet mushrooms.

We remain committed to supporting the workers at Pictsweet, regardless of the outcome. We will keep you posted as to the latest developments.

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http://news.statesmanjournal.com/article.cfm?i=30300 Pictsweet plant to close this fall

Three years of losing profits, not the boycott organized by union workers, led to the decision, an official says.

MICHAEL ROSE Statesman Journal September 19

The Pictsweet Mushroom Farm, the focus of a farm worker-led boycott, a lightning rod for local politics and a decades-long source of neighborhood complaints about odors, will close by November.

John Haltom, mushroom division president for parent company United Foods Inc., said Tuesday that the Pictsweet farm in East Salem has lost money for three years and that it no longer made sense to keep the plant operating. The impending closure will cost 314 employees their jobs.

"It was a gut-wrenching decision," Haltom said. Increased imports from British Columbia, not the union campaign at the local Pictsweet plant, drove the company's decision to close the farm, he said. The company's plant in California will remain open.

The closure will come as the economy teeters on the edge of recession.

"This whole agriculture industry is in a tailspin," said Larry Glassock, president of the Salem Economic Development Corp.

Woodburn still is reeling from the shutdown of AgriFrozen Foods' vegetable processing plant, a closure partially blamed on competition with imported products. The outlook for Pictsweet workers tossed into a softening job market is grim, Glassock added.

Earlier this year, the Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United, better known by its Spanish acronym PCUN, began a unionizing campaign at Pictsweet. PCUN called for a boycott on Pictsweet mushrooms that Salem Mayor Mike Swaim helped promote by pleading the union's case to Fred Meyer Inc.

Barely a week after Fred Meyer agreed to stop buying from Pictsweet, the mushroom grower announced 50 layoffs. Safeway Stores soon followed, and Food Services of America, a prominent food distributor, also stopped doing business with Pictsweet.

Swaim's role in the boycott has drawn criticism from state Sen. Gene Derfler and others who say Swaim should have stayed out of the dispute.

But Haltom said Pictsweet simply could not compete with the 30 million pounds of mushrooms that are imported annually from Canada. An oversupply and market conditions made it too expensive to upgrade the farm, which was established in 1937, he said. Sharply rising natural gas costs added to the mushroom farm's problems.

"We made every concerted effort to keep it going," said Alan Marlowe, general manager of Pictsweet's Salem farm. Growing speciality mushrooms, including a line of organic products, failed to make the plant competitive, he said.

Pictsweet officials said they will investigate the possibility that the company's Salem employees may qualify for displaced worker benefits under the North American Free Trade Agreement. Employees, many paid a piece-rate for harvesting mushrooms, will not get a severance package, company officials said.

PCUN officials said they were surprised by the closure but would try to find another mushroom grower to take over the property.

"We have serious doubts that straight economics are the driving factor for this," said Erik Nicholson, a PCUN organizer. He said Pictsweet was retaliating against workers standing up for their rights.

Workers backing the union drive have demanded better pay and working conditions. PCUN organizers pointed to a forklift accident in June that cost a worker his hand and resulted in $7,475 in fines on Pictsweet as an example of the problems.

Pictsweet's Haltom said the parent company intends to sell the 120-acre Pictsweet site at 255 Cordon Road NE, although it hasn't investigated the site's potential value or found a buyer. He declined to speculate on the odds for another mushroom grower taking over the operation or the ease of redeveloping the site for other uses.

For years, neighbors have complained about odors of mushroom compost wafting from the farm and blamed it for decreasing property values. The farm, however, was built long before the city encroached on its operation.

Bertha Larson, a Pictsweet employee for 28 years who was laid off after Fred Meyer stopped buying Pictsweet's mushrooms, said she blames the union for the loss of her job. She is still looking for work.

Michael Rose can be reached (503) 399-6657.

http://news.statesmanjournal.com/article.cfm?i=30319 Pictsweet should aid workers in job hunt

Rather than laying blame, both sides have to work together to move on.

September 20

The pending closure of the Pictsweet Mushroom Farm is a blow for the Salem area.

But for Pictsweet's 314 employees, it could be devastating. Finding new jobs to support their families won't be easy.

Like the rest of the country, the Mid-Willamette Valley is buffeted by increasingly difficult economic conditions.

Imports of lower-cost foreign produce continue to undercut Marion County agriculture. When AgriFrozen Foods' vegetable processing plant in Woodburn closed, it took away jobs and a market for area farmers' crops.

Meanwhile, Mitsubishi Silicon America and some other area companies have laid off workers. Oregon's unemployment rate is at a seven-year high.

The situation will worsen in the aftermath of last week's attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Businesses, small and large, already face higher costs for shipping, security and travel. Boeing plans to lay off 20,000 to 30,000 workers around the country. Although job cuts are cyclical in the commercial aircraft industry, the economic repercussions will be felt throughout the Pacific Northwest.

In this climate, United Foods' decision to shut the doors of Pictsweet's Salem operation this fall is deeply disappointing. But it comes as no surprise.

Officials said the farm had lost money for three years and couldn't compete with foreign imports.

Some people blame the upcoming closure on a Pictsweet boycott launched by a union and promoted by Salem Mayor Mike Swaim. Company officials, who previously refused to comment on the boycott, say it wasn 't a factor.

But there's little benefit in pointing fingers or assigning blame, especially during these stressful times.

The essential issue is to help workers survive the loss of their jobs. As with other people who suddenly are out of work because of plant closures or layoffs, they deserve the community's assistance in finding new jobs and staying on their feet.

That is why it's disturbing that Pictsweet has chosen not to give workers a severance package. United Foods and Pictsweet should reconsider and recognize the hard work of employees.

Pictsweet officials said they will investigate whether employees can qualify for displaced-worker benefits under NAFTA. They should do so aggressively, with the strong support of our local and state political leadership.

The Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United, known by its Spanish acronym, PCUN, is interested in finding someone to take over the East Salem farm. Although that shouldn't be ruled out, it would be difficult.

The farm is in a poor location, conflicting with adjacent residential neighborhoods. Its facilities are old. No matter who runs the farm, the owners would face competition from lower-priced foreign mushrooms, as well as higher energy prices and other production costs.

If the property doesn't remain a mushroom farm, Pictsweet and local government officials should look at how it best can be redeveloped to benefit the community. And they should cooperate on helping the displaced workers.

homepage: homepage: http://www.pcun.org