Teamsters Continue to Picket Outside Shelia Marie Imports

A strike that began outside Sheila Marie Imports (SMI) last Wednesday when 13 SMI employees started picketing in the early morning continues a week later.

The employees were joined by up to 80 additional union members and police have been monitoring the scene with reports of damage — and one arrest.

The strike has lasted seven days, and it is unclear when it will end.

Police arrived at 35 Concord St., last Wednesday morning after SMI Controller Maureen Gambale called to report that strikers were shaking her car and screaming profanities when she attempted to drive into the parking lot of SMI.

“I was surrounded. They spit on my car; I was terrified,” Gambale said.

Sales Administrator Candy Mackay had a similar experience driving to work.

“They swarmed my car, and they called me every name in the book. Every name. I was scared,” Mackay said. Mackay just started working at SMI, but Buyer Donna Fronczak has been with SMI for years.

Fronczak worked with the 13 strikers on a regular basis. They’ve been in her office, and she’s helped them out on several occasions, she said.

The union members are striking over working conditions, pay, and benefits. “The workers at Sheila Marie Imports voted for and won a union election and they deserve to have their message heard at the bargaining table,” said Sean M. O’Brien, president of Teamsters Local 25. “The company has spent thousands of dollars thus far for police details and replacement workers from Atlanta and they still claim they can’t pay their workers anymore in wages. The workers deserve a contract.”

Starting in November 2010, SMI met with the union 11 times regarding their contracts. On July 5, the company made their final offer, according to company officials.

“The company has negotiated with the union in good faith, in an effort to reach agreement on a contract,” Phillip Moss, lawyer for SMI, said on their behalf. “The wages start at $12/hour in the warehouse and range up to $24 for drivers, and of course, employees who work more than 40 hours a week are paid time and a half for overtime.”

“Employees also receive a package of benefits that includes paid vacations, holidays and sick leave, health, dental and life insurance, short-term disability insurance, and a 401K plan with a matching contribution.”

Moss continued, “However, Sheila Marie was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2007, and it has continued to lose money each year since then. In circumstances like these, most employers would demand concessions from the union representing their employees, such as an across-the-board cut in wages. Sheila Marie did not ask for any cuts in wages or benefits.”

SMI serves customers in 50 states importing specialty foods such as cheese, olive oil, and crackers. The remaining staff of 36 continue to work throughout the strike, said company officials.

Account Executive Adam Bonfiglioli said, “It’s important to be here,” he said. “I don’t want to let what is going on change my schedule.”

According to the Police Department, damage has already been reported due to the strike, and all occurred when police were not present. A light was smashed near the entrance of the Concord Street warehouse, and a cinder block was thrown at a SMI truck causing damage to the visor above the windshield. Another truck’s gas line was cut, causing fuel to leak everywhere. SMI is paying for the police protection to keep their staff safe.

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