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Selbyville Mountaire plant votes out last union

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Mountaire’s Selbyville plant is now union-free after a Teamsters vote Thursday, another major blow to organized labor in Delaware. | PHOTO COURTESY OF MARYLAND DEPT OF AG

SELBYVILLE – Less than four months after voting out its largest union, the employees of the Mountaire poultry processing plant have voted out the local Teamsters union as well, making the plant union-free for the first time in decades.

In a Thursday vote, the members of the Teamsters Union Local 355 voted 140-29 to decertify the union, according to an announcement from the Delaware-based company. The vote needs to be certified by the National Labor Relations Board to be official, but the company reported that they anticipated that to occur.

“For the first time since 1977, our Selbyville plant is union free and it was our hourly employees who make that happen,” said Phillip Plylar, president of Mountaire, in a statement. “We could not be more proud of our team who put our employees first every day.”

More than 400 workers had been members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 27 union until they voted 356-80 in December to end their association. That decertification impacted about 1,000 total represented workers.

Selbyville was the only processing plant owned by Mountaire Farms where unions are present. The union has been part of the plant since it was purchased by Mountaire in 1977.

After the UFCW vote, a Teamsters union employee gathered signatures and submitted a petition to the NLRB in early February asking to decertify the Teamsters union.

A so-called decertification vote in Delaware, which had about 41,000 members of organized labor unions in 2020, are rare but not uncommon. Asplundh workers in Dover voted to decertify a union in April 2019 in the last organized labor loss here. Many of the unions that choose to disband are smaller in size with numbers that are easier to split though, making the Mountaire losses more significant.

The dispute at the chicken plant began in the summer of 2020, when worker Oscar Cruz Sosa filed a case against the UFCW, seeking a decertification vote by claiming it unduly required member dues be paid after hiring without a 30-day grace period. The union was then in the second year of a five-year contract, and it argued the longstanding “contract bar” doctrine prohibited such a vote.

Sosa was supported in his campaign by the National Right to Work Foundation (NRWF), a nonprofit organization that seeks to advance right-to-work laws that weaken unions. A NRWF legal team argued on his behalf to undo the contract bar doctrine, which could make decertification votes far more frequent.

Contract bar limits when workers can file petitions to hold an election to vote out unions. It specifies a 30-day window of between 90 and 60 days from a contract’s expiration in its first three years. After three years, workers are free to challenge the support of the union.

In April 2021, the NLRB ruled against Sosa and upheld the contract bar, forcing Mountaire employees to wait until October to petition for decertification after the three-year window closed. An unnamed employee did just that, and a new vote was scheduled for December. The employer prevailed.

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