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Agar workers reject 3rd union bid attempt

TAUNTON, MA (March 2, 2010)—Warehouse workers and truck drivers for Taunton-based Agar Supply Co. Inc. last week voted to remain a union-free shop. The 121 to 90 vote rejecting the bid to unionize was the third time workers at the food service company have turned down such an offer.

Teamsters Local 653 President Michael Clark blamed Agar and its attorney for having fostered an atmosphere of distrust and fear among employees. Clark said workers were told that if they joined the union they could be replaced by unemployed teamsters — something, he said, that is patently untrue.

He also claimed that a language barrier among Hispanic and Cape Verdean workers had contributed to a general air of suspicion.

Clark also contends Agar pays its drivers anywhere from $13 to $21 an hour, far less than comparable businesses such as Cirelli Food Service, Sysco, and U.S. Foods.In the end, Clark said, “Their lawyer worked better than my letters.”

Agar president/CEO Karen Bressler dismissed all of Clark’s claims. "They’re untrue,” she said.

Bressler said her warehouse workers and drivers “make a very good living,” particularly when one factors in the company’s matching 401K retirement package, a comprehensive medical and disability plan and the availability of overtime pay. As for low-paid truck drivers, she said, “I don’t have any driver making $13 an hour.” She also said company-to-employee communiqués are issued both in English and Spanish and that she herself is fluent in Spanish.

Clark claims Agar has fired 80 workers during the past three years, 21 of whom were let go in January alone.

Bressler said her records indicate a total of 31 people have either quit or been fired during the last 13 months.

She also said she’s never had to resort to laying off any workers, adding that Agar is now hiring in anticipation of utilizing a new 50,000 square-foot, dry- and frozen-storage expansion space.

Bressler defends Agar’s track record for employee turnover and says that people who are terminated “ultimately [have] fired themselves” due to drug testing violations, theft, poor attendance or a lack of productivity.

In addition to the approximately 220 truck drivers and warehouse workers, Agar employs another 200 men and women, including those in sales, management and administrative positions.

Bressler labeled the Teamsters’ attempt as misguided and said that a union shop would severely hinder future development like the current $8 million expansion project.

Agar was granted an extension and adjustment on a pre-existing tax increment financing (TIF) property-tax discount with the city in consideration of the expansion.

Agar describes itself as New England’s largest independent food distributor and has been in business since 1940, the year that Bressler’s grandfather Karl started the company.

It moved its operations and headquarters into Taunton’s Myles Standish Industrial Park in 2000.

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