Courtesy of Jess Petron

23 yes’s and 82 no’s. 

That was the final vote count in the union election of workers at Glanbia Nutritionals plants in West Haven and Orange, Connecticut that concluded on March 16. The workers, who were choosing whether or not to join United Food and Commercial Workers Local 371, initially filed for an election in early January, before encountering an extensive and expensive union-busting campaign over the following two months.

“I am disappointed,” Roger Weldon, a production supplies specialist in the plant and member of the Organizing Committee who voted yes, told the News. “I am just saddened that my coworkers trusted strangers instead of one of their coworkers.”

The strangers in question were two union-busters from Action Resources, a “labor and employee relations company” who ended up being paid over $330,0000 for approximately 50 days of work, according to documents obtained by the News.

“Oh, 100 percent. It’s because of the consultants,” Jess Petronella, Local 371’s Organizing Director, told the News. “You’re being told trying to organize is bad, right? And you’re just listening to them for hours every day. And so I think the union-busting is the reason we lost.”  

Glanbia did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the outcome of the election. 

The campaign to unionize started out strong. 103 Glanbia workers signed cards authorizing an election in just a few weeks last December. The drive was prompted by company changes to healthcare plans, a reduction in bonuses and a plan to add a fourth 12.5-hour shift to the production team’s work weeks.

“You usually lose 20 percent of your card signers,” Petronella reflected. In this election the union lost more than 75 percent of card signers.

According to Weldon, Glanbia suspended the increase in shifts until at least mid-March. With the election out of the way, Weldon said that he would not be surprised if Glanbia went through with its proposed schedule changes, as workers would no longer have a recourse to prevent the change.

The tide began turning against the union in late January, after Glanbia hired two union-busters on Jan. 13. The union-busters quickly became a constant presence in the factories. They plastered walls, doors and hallways with anti-union flyers, spent hours talking to workers on the shop floor and held multiple “captive audience” meetings, where attendance was mandatory and workers were discouraged from unionizing by both the union-busters and upper management at the plants.

“I think a fair election would have been the union-busters not being allowed to have captive audience meetings,” Weldon said. In early March, Weldon testified before the Connecticut General Assembly in favor of a bill that would ban companies from making such meetings mandatory.  

Organizing Committee members also reported frustration that Glanbia’s Irish plants were unionized with the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union, the largest trade union in Ireland. SIPTU sent multiple letters of solidarity to Glanbia workers in Connecticut during the drive, and also wrote to Glanbia, requesting they “do the right thing” and voluntarily recognize the union.   

“I think ‘Union Busting’ is a disgraceful practice and unbecoming of an Irish owned company such as Glanbia.” Greg Ennis, SIPTU’s Manufacturing Division Organiser, told the News in an email.

By the time ballots were due back to the National Labor Relations Board on March 15, organizers with UFCW did not expect a victory. Predictions for the number of yes votes ranged from 30 to 50, all short of the 53 needed for a majority. In the pre-election, the union encountered even more issues when they discovered that multiple expected yes votes, including a worker on the Organizing Committee, failed to return their ballots in time. 

As the election officials started to read off the results, a stony silence fell over the UFCW office, punctured only by low murmurs and whispers of disappointment. Once it became clear that the union was going to lose, Petronella apologized to Weldon.

“That was worse than our worst estimate,” Patrice Thomas, an organizer with UFCW, said.

In conversations with UFCW organizers, many workers cited the cost of paying union dues and uncertainty around whether a contract would increase wages as reasons for voting no in the election.

By law, workers at Glanbia cannot file for another union election for a year after this loss. 

“You know, I’d be willing to try,” Weldon told the News when asked about the prospect of unionizing in the future. “I’m not planning on leaving.”

As for the immediate future, Weldon said he was trying his best to get along with all of his coworkers, regardless of how they voted. 

Despite the loss, Ennis wrote that he was proud of the unionization effort. “To the 23 workers who voted for Union representation, I salute them, their courage and fight for fairness in society and justice in the workplace, is a beacon to all such workers, who are struggling or who wish to seek improvements to their terms and conditions of employment.”

Glanbia returned over $180 million in profit in 2021.

Nathaniel Rosenberg is City Editor for the News. He previously served as Audience Editor, where he managed the News's newsletter content, covered cops and courts and housing and homelessness for the City Desk. Originally from Silver Spring, MD, he is a junior in Morse College majoring in history.