OAKLAND (CBS SF) – American Licorice Co. officials were meeting with union leaders at a federal mediator’s office in Oakland Monday to try to settle a strike at the company’s Union City plant that began five weeks ago, a union spokeswoman said.

The spokeswoman for the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union Local 125 said union leaders wouldn’t be available for comment until after the mediation session ends.

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A company spokeswoman for American Licorice said company officials also wouldn’t comment until later Monday.

About 175 employees at the Union City plant went on strike on Dec. 5 as a result of a labor dispute over health care, pensions and wages.

A large group of Occupy Oakland protesters came to the plant Monday to support the striking workers, Occupy Oakland spokesman Kevin Griddle said.

He said Occupy protesters have been coming to the plant for about a week to help American Licorice workers maintain their 24-hour picket schedule.

Griddle said a larger group of protesters showed up at the plant Monday because an Occupy Oakland general assembly voted Sunday to formally support the striking workers.

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When the strike began, union leaders said contract talks with the company began in August, when the previous labor agreement expired, but that negotiations broke down despite the efforts of federal mediators.

American Licorice spokesman Michael Kelly said in a statement on Dec. 5 that, “The company’s final proposal to our associates included a pay raise, an improved retirement benefit, and comprehensive health insurance for associates and their families.”

Kelly said, “We have a long-standing and positive relationship with our associates and despite their rejection of our final offer, we’re optimistic that everyone will return to work and the situation will be resolved.”

Union leaders said the biggest stumbling block in labor negotiations is health care costs.

American Licorice has its headquarters in Bend, Ore., and has another plant in La Porte, Ind.


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