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Did You Know The UAW Represents Ice Cream Workers At Perry’s In The Erie County Village of Akron?

Positive Labor-Management Relationship Helping Grow Company As Workers Recently Ratified A New Four-Year Agreement By An 80% Margin

Published Monday, March 29, 2010 9:00 pm
by Tom Campbell

(AKRON) - With a new four-year contract recently ratified, the president of United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 686/Unit 18 tells positive Labor-Management relations at Perry's Ice Cream is at a stage where the company sees having a Union president on site "as a plus," and as a result of working with its Human Resource Manager no Union-represented employee grievance has been filed at the Akron plant since late 2008.

In late February - by an 80% margin - 127 UAW-represented workers at Perry's Ice Cream ratified a new four-year agreement that called for wage increases ranging from 10% to 18%.  While the employees' Health Care benefits basically stayed the same - UAW Local 686/Unit 18 President Bob Engelhart tells that a "common sense and working together approach" has saved both the company and employees money on their Health Care plan.  While there were no changes to the workers' 401(k) pension plan, the company continues to "match up to five-percent" - which is based on seniority - on their employees' contributions.

"Several years ago we created the Joint Operation Leadership Team, called JOLT, where a committee was made up of an equal number of Union and management representatives, who began working together to ward off any potential grievances.  (As a result,) The last grievance we had was about a year and a half ago," Engelhart said.

Since the UAW bargained its first contract at Perry's Ice Cream back in 1998, much has changed after workers initially looked to Unionize over what UAW officials described "as a lack of worker respect" by management within the plant.  "The dispute back then wasn't over wages.  It was over respect in the workplace.  It took nearly a year to get that first contract, but now this is our fourth.  While there's some skepticism with it being a privately-owned company in regards to the future, things are positive in the plant.  So positive that Perry's is (currently) looking to fill eight, entry-level positions," UAW 686/Unit 18 President Engelhart said.

Labor-Management relations at Perry's Ice Cream has improved to the point where Engelhart says the company sees his being a full-time, on-site Union president "as a plus."  Engelhart added that he and the Human Resource manager work well together on a number of issues.  So well that Engelhart said Perry's Ice Cream management at the Erie County Village of Akron plant agreed to pay the wages of some Union representatives who recently took part in a UAW Lobbying Day in Albany, as well as several others who will attend an upcoming UAW Safety Conference in Michigan.

"We've accomplished a lot by working together," noted Engelhart - adding Perry's Ice Cream has benefitted too - being the recipient of working with the Union, which has helped land more than $2.5 million in New York State grant money that was used for capital improvements and education at the Akron plant.

According to information posted on Perry's Ice Cream's web site, Perry's started as a milk dairy back in 1918.  In 1932, the company started making ice cream for a local school.  Over the years, ice cream began to replace Perry's milk business and today the company produces 290 ice cream products - which equates into 11 million gallons of ice cream that are annually produced.

Perry's Ice Cream claims to be a leader of ice cream manufacturing not only across the Western New York Region, but the Northeast.  The company's also begun to expand into the Southeastern United States, as well as into other countries, according to its web site.

Through the years, Perry's Ice Cream has continued to progress in product innovation and in size, its web site states.  In the early 1950s, Perry's was one of the first ice cream companies to package ice cream in a round pint container.  By 1970, overwhelming demand for Perry's Ice Cream required a new storage freezer built on 8.5 acres of land in Akron.  As the company has continued to grow, it continued to expand its facility, and by 1982 had moved the entire production, storage and offices to its current home at One Ice Cream Plaza.

Perry's Ice Cream's UAW-represented workforce, meanwhile, perform a number of jobs within the Akron plant, from handling raw ingredients - including cream, milk and nuts - to operating hi-tech ice cream manufacturing equipment as freezer operators to working with the finished product in both packaging and shipping, Engelhart said.

To the best of the Engelhart's knowledge, the Perry's Ice Cream facility in Akron is the only UAW-represented ice cream manufacturing workforce in the U.S.



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