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Mountaire workers vote to end union in Selbyville

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Mountaire’s Selbyville plant voted to remove its employee union this year in a major blow to organized labor in Delaware. | PHOTO COURTESY OF MARYLAND DEPT OF AG

SELBYVILLE – After a contentious years-long battle that saw national groups take interest, several hundred workers at a Mountaire poultry processing plant voted to end their union representation Thursday, marking the state’s largest organized labor election loss in at least a decade.

The more than 400 workers had been members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 27 union until they voted 356-80 to end their association, according to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which counted the votes Thursday. The company said in a statement that it expects the vote, which impacts about 1,000 total represented workers, to be certified on Dec. 23.

“After 44 years of union representation, the Selbyville plant takes a huge step forward today,” said Phillip Plylar, president of Mountaire Farms, in a statement. “Our employees have just been asking for their voices to be heard, and today, they were heard loud and clear.”

Selbyville is the only processing plant owned by Mountaire Farms that uses unionized labor, which had been present since the plant was purchased by Mountaire in 1977. Despite the loss by the UFCW, another group of about 200 employees will continue to be represented by Teamsters Local 355 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 their 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 loss more significant. It’s the largest Delaware union to lose a certification vote in at least a decade, according to NLRB records.

The UFCW did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Mountaire vote Friday.

The dispute at the chicken plant began in the summer of 2020, when worker Oscar Cruz Sosa filed a case against the union, 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, 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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