The union representing workers on strike at a Shakopee concrete plant opened a new front in the labor dispute today, when 15 members of Laborers Local 563 filed civil rights charges with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission alleging Cretex mistreated Latino employees.
Local 563 represents 38 Cretex workers who have been on strike since June 19. After months of negotiations with the Elk River-based company, workers voted to authorize the strike when management refused to budge from its proposal to stop contributing to workers’ pensions.
But the EEOC complaint, announced by Local 563 today in a press release, reveals deeper tensions between the company and its Shakopee workforce. Allegations against Cretex, according to the press release, include:
• Use of insulting and offensive language – such as statements to the effect that ‘Mexicans have no brains’ and ‘Mexicans are too stupid to use computers’ – and harassment of Latino immigrants for speaking to each other in Spanish during breaks.
• Unequal treatment of Latino and immigrant workers, who are assigned more difficult and dangerous work, and disciplined more frequently and more harshly than their peers.
• Attempted intimidation through threats of firing and, in some cases, threats to the person and property of Latinos.
The 15 employees who filed charges are immigrants from Mexico and U.S.-born Latinos. Julio Ocampo Sanchez, who has worked at Cretex for three years, said the group’s patience reached a breaking point when the company allegedly promoted the most abusive person in the plant.
“We just try to do our jobs and stay out trouble because we’re working toward our pension,” Sanchez said. “Then they threaten to take it away, and suddenly the worst offender is wearing the red hat they give out to leads. It feels like a deliberate slap in the face.”
Tim Mackey, Local 563 business manager, said the union has reached out to a federal mediator with hopes of facilitating a meeting with Cretex about adding anti-discrimination language into workers’ collective bargaining agreement.
“We are asking Cretex to come back to the bargaining table to discuss a solution to the issues facing our Latino members,” said Mackey. “While we remain far apart on the pension issue, there is no reason we can’t find common ground on efforts to prevent future discrimination and pave the way for an eventual settlement.
“It is sad to think that, in 2013, employees would be mistreated because of their race, ethnicity or national origin. This type of treatment cannot be tolerated, and we intend to demand contract language that protects all of our members from discrimination, harassment, and intimidation.”