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Contract talks at Red Wing leather firm stall

S.B. Foot Tanning Co., a subsidiary of Red Wing Shoe Co. and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1189 have been negotiating a new contract since March 1, 2022. On April 27, the workers rejected a contract offer and later authorized the possibility of a strike.

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RED WING, Minn. — After voting down a final “best” contract offer, workers at the tanning subsidiary of Red Wing Shoe Co. are prepared to strike if an agreement can’t be reached.

The company and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1189, which represents 92 employees at S.B. Foot Tanning Co. in Red Wing, have been negotiating since March 1, 2022. The 150-year-old S.B. Foot operates two facilities in Red Wing and provides leather to Red Wing Shoe Co. and other customers.

On April 27, the workers voted on what the union described as the company’s “last, best and final” contact offer. That offer was rejected by a vote of 73-6. Later, the employees voted to authorize the possibility of a strike.

That means the company and the union are still looking for ways to reach an agreement, but a strike could happen at any time.

“A strike is a last resort situation,” said UFCW Local 1189 Representative Raymond Gandy. “Ideally, we'd like to speak to the employer and sit down at the bargaining table to reach an agreement.”

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Representatives of the company say their side is also anxious to resolve the contract.

“We are disappointed that we have not yet been able to come to a new contract in our negotiations with the United Food and Commercial Workers union that represents 92 of our employees at S. B. Foot Tanning Company in Red Wing, Minnesota. We continue to approach our ongoing discussions in good faith to seek terms that are fair to both parties and reflective of our decades-long relationship with our employees and their union representation,” wrote Red Wing Shoe Co. chief marketing officer Dave Schneider.

Schneider added, “We look forward to working through these discussions that ultimately affords us the opportunity to continue to provide a premium product to consumers of both Red Wing Shoe Company and the brands of S.B. Foot Tanning Company’s premium customer base.”

Gandy said there are still significant issues to resolve.

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“Health care costs, not unlike many other industries, continue to be a burden for S.B. Foot members. After three years of double digit increases in insurance costs, a lot of wage increases are being absorbed by these health care increases,” he said. ”With inflation where it is right now, there is no way that the members can possibly go backwards in compensation.”

Gandy also said low staffing combined with the physically demanding work is wearing down the employees.

“They have low morale due to the feeling that they are only worth the amount of leather, the amount of a product they put out in a day. It's just kind of a respect thing,” he said. “People are pretty worn out.”

Founded as the Trout Brook Tannery in 1872 by Silas B. Foot and George Sterling, S.B. Foot has been an employer in Red Wings for 150 years. Foot took over sole ownership in 1897 and re-named it as S.B. Foot & Co.

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Red Wing Shoes purchased S.B. Foot in 1986.

Jeff Kiger tracks business action in Rochester and southeastern Minnesota every day in "Heard on the Street." Send tips to jkiger@postbulletin.com or via Twitter to @whereskiger . You can call him at 507-285-7798.

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Jeff Kiger writes a daily column, "Heard on the Street," in addition to writing articles about local businesses, Mayo Clinic, IBM, Hormel Foods, Crenlo and others. He has worked in Rochester for the Post Bulletin since 1999. Readers can reach Jeff at 507-285-7798 or jkiger@postbulletin.com.
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