News Column

The Struggle for Justice, Dignity & Respect at Azteca Foods

December 6, 2002

**This information is reprinted from an email sent to Hispanic Business. It in no way reflects the views or opinions of Hispanic Business, Inc., or its employees.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- -----Original Message----- From: erothste [] Sent: Wednesday, December 04, 2002 1:15 PM To: Subject: Azteca Tortilla National Boycott info Mexican American businessman Art Velasquez at war with his Latino workforce in Chicago... Boycott Azteca Totrilla, Tortilla Shells and Chips! What is going on? Workers who make Azteca Tortillas have formed a union to make fair improvements for themselves and their families. Instead of bargaining a fair first contract, Azteca Foods, based in Chicago, has come to the bargaining table seeking to take away what its workers have. Azteca workers have been on strike since September 30th. •Azteca makes millions while workers struggle to make ends meet. •Azteca wants to take away workers benefits and protections. •Azteca has violated the law with threats, intimidation and surveillance of the employees. Here are the facts: •On September 30th. 63 workers, who are members of the United Electrical Workers union (UE) Local 1159, went on strike at Azteca Foods, a tortilla factory on the southwest side of Chicago. They produce Azteca brand refrigerated tortillas, tortilla chips and salad shells. Workers at Azteca Foods have spent their lives at this company. The majority of them have been working there over 12 years and a third have over 20 years with the company. They are almost all Spanish-speaking Mexican immigrants. •Negotiations have been continuing with Azteca since May 2002. The workers are seeking the following: •Respect for Seniority in job transfers, shift preferences and overtime •Overtime offered in order of Seniority •Good Raises •Better Retirement Benefits •Sick days •A grievance procedure and steward's rights •Union security •A right to distribute union literature in non-work areas on non-work time •Azteca Foods, a privately-held corporation has a estimated revenue of between $30-33 million a year. Their tortillas and chips are sold in major grocery chains throughout the country, including at Jewel and Dominick's in Chicago. •Azteca workers describe their workload as being very heavy, and work under a lot of pressure from often verbally abusive supervisors. They are concerned about the numerous rashes, burns and workplace injuries that occur. It is a very hot and very fast-paced production line. •Most of the workers make $9 an hour. Azteca tortillas are sold 10 in a refrigerated pack for a dollar or more to mostly non-Latino consumers. Azteca makes over half a million tortillas daily that are produced and packaged by machine. In contrast with small tortillerias, Azteca's production and product has more in common with large processed food corporations and in fact was at one time owned by Pillsbury. They pay at or below on average for this industry. •Azteca is demanding concessions aimed at cutting the minimal level of protections and benefits workers have had for many years. The company sought the following concessions from the workers: •Ban on union leaflets on company property •Maintain the right to lockout workers •Maintain the company's right to file grievances against the union •Gutting seniority rights in job bids and transfers •Expanded management rights •No union shop •Seven-hundred percent increase in worker health insurance costs •Two-thirds of workers would receive a five cent raise •Azteca would not help ensure bilingual negotiations. Ninety-seven percent of the entire bargaining unit speaks Spanish as their primary language. The company said they would not contribute towards nor provide for translation. To this day, the company refuses to translate their proposals or the bargaining meetings. •At the informational picket outside the plant to protest the company's proposals, the company told all the workers they were fired for participating in the picket. In response to this illegal activity, the UE filed unfair labor practice charges for these threats, one on one interrigation and for acts of surveillance, which includes, Azteca videotaping those workers picketing. The National Labor Relations Board, a federal government agency, has issued a complaint against the company. •Recently, Azteca has denied the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), an U.S. Government agency, access to their plant to allow for inspection of alleged federal law violations. In 2000, Azteca was cited for 12 violations of federal health & safety law, 10 of which were repeat violations. •Arthur R. Velasquez is President and Chief Executive Officer of Azteca Foods, Inc. Mr. Velasquez has refused to meet with Chicago Workers' Rights Board to discuss effect of the strike on the workers, their families and the community. What can I do to help? 1. Contact Azteca Foods owner Art Velasquez at 800-475-7997 and tell him to stop stalling and negotiate a fair contract now! 2. Send Azteca Foods an email message from the UE website at 3. Join with your local Jobs with Justice coalition and participate by visiting local retailers who sell Azteca products and encourage them to join the boycott. Visit to find the local JwJ Coalition in your area. 4. Send a letter to the editor of your local newspapers and let them know that a national boycott of Azteca products is going on and encourage others to contact the company. 5. Send this message out to all listserves that you participate in and let them know about the workers fight for dignity, respect and justice. Ask them to contact Azteca and let the company know that they are supporting the boycott. 6. Encourage other activists and organizations to sign the pledge of support at the UE website, 7. Financial contributions are needed and would be appreciated. Please send contributions to UE Local 1159, 37 South Ashland Avenue, Chicago, IL 60607. Contact for more information: United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America UE Local 1159 312-829-8300

Source: UE Local 1159

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