Terry Hughes is Reporting Secretary for the Teamsters Local 264 representing Sorrento workers and has been an employee of Sorrento Cheese for fifteen years. He talked with Alt about contract negotiation problems that workers are currently facing at Sorrento. Employees are currently working without a contract.

Alt: How did things get to this point?

They gave us a final offer on health and medical benefits. There’s a standard in the dairy industry that’s already been set with other companies like Wendt, Bison Foods, etc.. Our proposal was that we’d get the same thing as all these other dairy workers already have because we basically do the same things, it’s the same type of job.

So, the company refused and they gave us a lower standard. We told them we didn’t think the union would go for it. We put it to a vote and over ninety percent of our workers voted it down. With that, the company implemented their final offer and refused to go back to the table and discuss it. Right now we’re working without a contract and they’ve imposed this final offer, which was already voted down.

Alt: Is that legal?

We feel that there’s been some labor violations, so we’ve filed some charges. Most contracts if they get voted down, normally you’d go back to the table. Alt: Or go for an extension of the old contract. Right, and they’ve refused to do that

Alt: How many workers are involved ?

About 312, I think.What we’ve been doing is a lot of leafleting, going to Bison games, and Thursday in The Square and the reason for that is that we just want to inform the community and get some backing from the community and show what this company is doing. We’re not looking for a boycott of any product, or a shut down or any thing like that, but what we want to do is let people know, because this could be happening to your friends and family, what this company is doing.

Alt: Is there a danger this could lead to a strike on your part or a lockout on their part?

At this point we’re not sure. Of course, we’re trying to avoid a strike at all costs. We wouldn’t want the company to force three hundred families out of work. That’s why we’re doing this for now, just trying to put a little pressure on the company and to get the same recognition that other dairy workers from other companies are getting. Alt: Have you worked with the Coalition for Economic Justice? Not yet.

Alt Sorrento is owned locally, right?

Oh, no. Sorrento is owned by a French conglomerate (Simplot). So yeah, with these other dairy companies the workers didn’t have to go anywhere near what we’ve had to go through to get this contract. By John McMahon

As a proud sponsor of this year’s Italian Heritage Festival, Sorrento Cheese played up its historic role as a mainstay of Italian cuisine in Buffalo and WNY. However, after being acquired by French conglomerate, Simplot Dairy Group, things have changed.

On the Italian Festival’s website, Fred Hermann, Corporate Director of Marketing for Sorrento Cheese was quoted as saying, "No matter how big our company gets we’ll always be deeply involved in this community. We live here and work here."

Unfortunately, this deep involvement in the community does not extend to Sorrento’s own workers in Buffalo. Some three hundred local workers have been given the cold shoulder by management as they have tried to work out a basic labor agreement with the company.