At 12:01 a.m. on Thursday Oct. 10, the 250 members of United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 455 went on strike at the Maximus Coffee Group plant in Second Ward. UFCW chief negotiator Rick Alleman tells CultureMap that workers only decided to strike after three months of negotiations did not produce an agreement.
"This contract (negotiation) began in June," he says. "The contract expired in July. We extended it two months."
When that expiration ran out, Alleman estimates that 90 percent of the workers walked out. Instead of working, they're currently picketing the company's facility at the corner of Milby and Harrisburg in three round-the-clock shifts.
According to Alleman, the issues stem from Maximus's demands for "major concessions" from employees including a 25 to 50-percent wage cut, the end of vacation time counting towards hours worked for overtime purposes and the end of overtime on holidays. In addition, Alleman says the company wants to change the employee's health plan in a way that would force them to find new doctors and increase their premiums.
On its website, Maximus has issued a statement:
Maximus Coffee Group confirms that the United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 455 commenced a strike at our Houston, Texas facility, at 12:01 a.m. on October 10, 2013. The Company has prepared for the possibility of a work stoppage, and it continues to work diligently to meet the needs of its customers. It does not anticipate any significant, longterm disruptions to its operations. Maximus has made significant efforts to reach agreement with the union, and it continues to stand ready, willing, and able to meet with the UFCW at the negotiating table to bargain in good faith.
The Company will not be making further comments at this time."
It's hard to tell whether the plant remains operational despite the strike. There's a distinct smell of coffee in the air, but Alleman notes the absence of steam and pointed to a spot where he said burned coffee had been thrown away.
In a Facebook post that's garnered almost 200 likes, recently opened cocktail bar Voodoo Queen has allied with the strikers by offering anyone with a Maximus badge $2 well drinks, $1 cans of beer and buy one get one free po'boys for the duration of the strike. "It was one of our owners, Brandon Young, who came up with the idea as soon as he heard about it," manager Alex Garcia told the Houston Press.
Alleman has one message for Maximus's management.
"Ball's in your court."