PENDLETON - They are few they say, and that's part of the problem.

A handful of union members from the Pendleton Flour Mills rallied for community support Saturday morning and afternoon at Til Taylor Memorial Park in Pendleton.

The union has been in contract negotiations since September with Southeastern Mills, a company based in Rome, Ga., that owns the majority of the Pendleton Flour Mills company, said Jim Pace, shop steward for the employees.

According to Pace and several other employees at the rally, Southeastern Mills is asking the employees - about 25 total - to accept wage cuts and a four-shift schedule, which would eliminate opportunities for overtime pay.

"They've already reduced the work force and increased the workload," said Gary Davis, a miller with 25 years time at the company. "They've got people running and doing more work than they can handle. Now they want to take more away. They want to take money out of our pockets."

Officials at the company told the employees the cuts were necessary in order for it to stay competitive, Pace said. Because the employees' event took place during weekend hours, no one from the company could be reached for comment.

Pace said a federal mediator intervened in the negotiations in December, but his presence has not yet helped. A meeting held Feb. 26-27 ended without an agreement when the union voted down the company's proposal.

The union and the company were supposed to meet again April 6, Pace said, but the company recently pushed the next meeting date back to sometime in June.

That move by the company is just one in a long list of frustrations employees have, Pace said.

"They've cut us in half," he said. "There used to be around 40 of us. Now working conditions are poor, and the company is not willing to reach a fair bargain."

Pace said the employees aren't likely to strike any time soon, but he said he hopes to attract the community's attention to their situation. He said he hopes public pressure will help the union's position.

At the park on Saturday, employees held signs that said "Save Family Wages," and "Honk in Support," as they paced between Court and Dorion avenues from 10 a.m. to about 1 p.m.

"They want to take so much away, everyone's lifestyle will change," said Patty Ball, a Flour Mills employee. "I think about it everyday. Now I won't be able to buy the kids a dip-and-chip any more. It's a daily thought. Can I make it?"

Because the employees' numbers are so small, they were joined Saturday by members from other local unions, including their partner from Washington, Spokane Local 98G; Pendleton's SEIU Local; an employee from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; and John Wooten, president of the Pendleton Firefighters Union, Local 2296.

Wooten said it was important for him to support the Pendleton Flour Mills employees because of the principle at stake.

"We've got an outfit here coming from Georgia and trying to cut wages in Oregon," he said. "And it's a lot of money for a family."

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