Makers of the Tip Top bread range, as well as Ploughmans and Bürgen bread, has accused First Union of acting irresponsibly by calling strikes at Ōtāhuhu and Wiri bakeries.
First Union disputes the allegations.
George Weston Foods (GWF) said the First Union called in for a strike in the middle of negotiations during the Covid-19 lockdown.
GWF general manager baking division Mark Bosomworth said since last Friday the union had issued a series of strike notices, reducing the company's production in Otahuhu and Wiri as 95 workers elected to strike, despite being in the midst of mediation.
This will reduce the supply of bread to supermarkets, mainly in the Auckland region, by nearly a third, Bosomworth said.
The company will be able to continue supplying the majority of its bakery products to the South Island and Wellington, through its Christchurch operation.
The strike notice impacting supply comes off the back of three prior strike notices, the first issued last Friday, when union members walked off the job at the end of the shift without commencing clean-down of the equipment or surfaces.
"Not cleaning during a pandemic impacts the safety of our people," Bosomworth said.
First Union's Jared Abbott said staff who are union members had elected to stop working overtime (more than 45 hours per week), including clearing-up duties.
"There was no ban on cleaning, and these staffs are production workers, they aren't cleaners," Abbott said.
Abbott claimed the company had reduced its own capacity to produce bread by reducing the number of shifts in the Christchurch plant at the start of the lockdown.
"This has increased the amount of pressure on the staff and the site, so it is a bit rich to try to blame the union," Abbott said.
Bosworth hit back, accusing the union of holding the food supply chain to ransom by exercising a labour monopoly and endangering the health and safety of his staff. That went against the union claim of putting people first, he said.
"The reckless approach it is taking with us today will be repeated elsewhere across the food supply chain, and Kiwis will be faced with continuous disruption to food supplies each time the union enters a negotiation.
"The union says that it puts people first, however, this action directly contradicts its claim," Bosworth said.
"This is not about the workers in our bakery.
"It's about First Union attempting to hold the entire food supply chain to ransom by exercising a labour monopoly, leveraging and controlling the food supply chain at a time when Kiwis need it the most - and endangering the health and safety of our bakery workers in the process," Bosworth said.
But Abbott said workers were refusing overtime in excess of 45 hours per week and they were not holding anyone to ransom.
"If workers want to go home after their contracted hours they are legally entitled to."
"These workers have partners looking after and homeschooling their children, they have a life and families to attend to outside of work," Abbott said.
"The union is threatening to continue with this action until the end of December, Bosworth said.
"We would never compromise the safety of our people or our food, so we have invested in contracts and temporary staff to ensure cleaning is completed to our high standards and practices." Bosworth said.
"We have met or exceeded the union's demands in almost every instance, making an offer that would see all current workers paid above a living wage and a generous average increase of 5.05 per cent in year one and an additional 3 per cent in year two," Bosworth said.
Abbott alleged the company hadn't offered living wage to most of its members, the current living wage is $22.75.
"And that's not the way how the living wage works, they are offering a starting rate of $20.75 an hour, the current offer is closer to the minimum wage than the living wage," Abbott said.
George Weston currently employs 95 staff under the Northern Collective Agreement. It has been in negotiations with the union since August 11, meeting face-to-face three times and once over Zoom. It has increased its offer on each occasion and has now invited the union to mediation, which took place yesterday.
"These strikes during a lockdown are irresponsible and an attempt to exploit a pandemic for political gain," Bosomworth said. "The union is determined to force a confrontation that is unnecessary: under our current offer every single worker currently on the agreement will be paid above the living wage, and we are currently in mediation so we can reach an agreement," Bosworth said.
Abbott said it was disappointing that a large multinational private equity-owned firm has decided to spend its money engaging an expensive PR firm to spread misinformation about its workforce rather than pay them a living wage.
"Currently, the company pays 12 cents above the minimum wage.
"Workers have not attempted to disrupt the supply chain, they have simply elected not to work more than 45 hours per week during a pandemic where they have been required to work excessive hours for less than they can afford to live off."
"If the company used the money they have invested in their PR firm to discredit workers right to refuse overtime, into wages then this situation wouldn't even exist," Abbott said.