On July 24, members of UFCW Local 400 who work at the nation’s only Lipton Tea plant in Suffolk, Va., voted overwhelmingly to approve their first union contract. The Lipton plant in Suffolk has operated for more than 60 years and produces nearly all of the Lipton Tea sold in North America.
The ratification represents the first time in the history of the plant when workers were given the opportunity to vote on the terms and conditions of their employment. The four-year contract includes significant improvements to working conditions and health care benefits, and places strict limits on when management can require employees to work overtime. The contract also provides workers with four days per year to opt out of mandatory overtime, in addition to two weekends off each month in which they can’t be forced to work overtime.
“It was a long process, but we couldn’t be happier with the outcome,” said Anita Anderson, an operator at Lipton for 11 years.
“Our new health care plan is a huge weight off my shoulders. Personally, I take medication every day and I can’t go without my health insurance. But I’m also a dad, and saving $4,000 a year goes a long way for me and my family,” said Terrell Owens, who has worked as an operating technician at Lipton for the past nine years.
“For the last 10 years, we saw so many of our benefits taken away,” said Paul Garrison, a 16-year mechanic. “But now that we have a union, we’re getting them back again.”
Philip Surace, a mechanic at Lipton, said his first experience with a union was when he called UFCW Local 400 last spring. “I didn’t know much about unions, but I knew something had to be done. Enough was enough. I was looking for help and the union sent people right away,” he said. Philip quickly pulled together a meeting with his coworkers to learn about their rights to form a union. “Two months later, we had our union. I would encourage anyone who wants to make their workplace better to do the same thing we did.”
“As a longtime Virginia resident, I know all too well how decades of regressive legislation and outdated federal labor law have stacked the deck against workers, particularly in the South,” said UFCW Local 400 President Mark Federci. “This unfortunate reality only makes me more proud of what the workers at Lipton have accomplished.”