On Labor Day, Remember These Striking Workers – National Consumers League

By Reid Maki, Director of Social Responsibility and Fair Labor Standards

With Labor Day upon us, think for a moment about the workers at Mott’s apple juice plant in Williamson, New York. The workers are striking because the company that owns Mott’s—a conglomerate called Dr Pepper Snapple Group—tried to cut workers’ wages as it recorded record profits. “It’s disgusting, honestly, the they want to take things away from the people who made them profitable,” Michell Muoio, a $19-an-hour machine operator who works in the plant told the New York Times in a recent story about the strike.

There is a pretty good chance you consume one of Dr Pepper Snapple Group’s products. In addition to Mott’s, Dr Pepper and Snapple, it makes Sunkist soda, 7UP, A&W, Canada Dry, Crush, Squirt, Hawaiian Punch, Penafiel, Clamato, Schweppes, and Venom Energy.

According to reporter Steven Greenhouse, Dr Pepper Snapple Group–despite running at a very healthy profit–tried to lower workers’ wages $1.50 an hour because it felt that the facility’s pay was too high for the area, which is economically depressed after years of layoffs from firms like Kodak and Xerox. Dr Pepper Snapple Group made $555 million in 2009. Not surprisingly, the workers—numbering 300-plus–said, “no” and went out on strike. That was in mid-April and the workers are still picketing with the company refusing to negotiate.

In addition to the wage cut, the company hopes to eliminate pensions for future workers, freeze pensions for current workers, decrease its contributions to the 401 K plan, and increase employee contributions toward health care premiums and co-pays. These moves might be acceptable if the company were losing serious money and in danger of going under, but for a company that is making lots of money to do it is pretty frightening and one can’t help fearing that this type of action will spread if the corporation is successful in Williamson.

The race to the bottom is becoming an increasingly familiar refrain in processing facilities and factories in the United States: Why pay workers decently if you don’t have to? In the early 1900s, Henry Ford realized that if he wanted to sell cars to the masses, the masses had to make a living wage. Today, though, many corporate bosses see no responsibility for their workers’ and their consumers’ well-being. The more they lower costs, the more their stock prices go up—and often the larger their bonus is. It’s Gordon Gecko thinking: Greed is good!

Larry Young is the CEO of the company. According to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, Young made $6.5 million last year and he’s averaged nearly 30 percent raises for each of the last three years. By contrast, veteran plant workers like Ms. Muoio earn less than $40,000 a year without overtime. The National Consumers League believes that kind of salary chasm between the CEO’s salary and a rank-and-file employee’s salary isn’t healthy.

When visitors go to Dr Pepper Snapple Group’s home page, they are immediately told about the company’s $1 million tuition giveaway, the company’s corporate philanthropy program, and their civic “play day” program.  But we’re left wondering why their corporate philanthropy can’t start with treating their workers well. How does driving down wages and benefits fit with corporate philanthropy?

In late August, 29 members of New York’s congressional delegation asked the company to return to the negotiating table. We hope the company listens.