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Workers begin walkout at Hodgkins food recycler

Employees cite grievances about pay and safety at a plant owned by ReConserve that processes human food into livestock feed.

Edwin Arroyo, a senior maintenance mechanic at ReConserve, speaks Monday after workers went on strike at the Hodgkins company.
Edwin Arroyo, a senior maintenance mechanic at ReConserve, speaks Monday after workers went on strike at the Hodgkins company.
Arise Chicago

Unionized workers at a food recycling plant in Hodgkins walked off the job Monday, citing issues about pay and safety they said were unaddressed in the company’s “best and final” contract offer.

The members of Local 881 of the United Food and Commercial Workers began picketing outside the regional operation of ReConserve, a company based in Santa Monica, California, that reprocesses bread, cereal grains and snacks into livestock feed. The strikers said they are paid less than other companies offer for comparable jobs and that conditions at the plant have worsened since July, when a fire destroyed a ReConserve plant in Terre Haute, Indiana, and work was sent to Hodgkins.

The union’s bargaining unit contains 28 people and almost all are supporting the strike, said Nick Morrissey, representative for Local 881. He said negotiations for the first-time contract started in July 2019 and the company has done little to answer workers’ grievances. No talks are scheduled, he said.

Angel Vazquez, the general manager of the Hodgkins site, declined to comment about the strike but said the plant continues to function with a small crew of nonunion staff. ReConserve President David Luskin did not immediately return a message.

“One of the reasons we’re doing this is we’re tired of being mistreated,” said Edwin Arroyo, of Crete, a senior maintenance mechanic at ReConserve. He said he must “crawl around like a monkey” on equipment without adequate safety harnesses. Arroyo also said the company doesn’t provide the right masks or goggles to protect workers from a fine powder produced by the recycling.

He said he’s been injured twice at work but ordered to continue light duty.

Morrissey said the workers joined Local 881 after not receiving a general raise since September 2017. He said the staff gets hourly rates of between $14 and $30, depending on the job duties, and the union has shown the pay is below other companies’ advertised rates.

Local media reports said the July fire destroyed ReConserve’s Terre Haute plant.

The employees struck with the support of Arise Chicago, a group that unites labor and religious organizations around workplace justice.