Dave Watts, president of the union at Tate's corn sweetener manufacturing subsidiary, AE Staley, said he was asked to leave the meeting because a letter naming the four delegation members as proxies for US shareholders had not been lodged in time with Tate's registrar.
The AIW handed leaflets out to shareholders as they arrived at the meeting in the Barbican to highlight a four-year-old dispute over working conditions at Staley's plant in Decatur, Illinois.
The union contends that Tate is trying to induce 800 workers to strike by imposing contract changes, reducing income by between dollars 3 and dollars 4 an hour and forcing workers to rotate between day and night shifts. Under US law, companies can replace strikers with new employees, thereby getting rid of union representation.
Neil Shaw, chairman of Tate & Lyle, dismissed the protest as a publicity stunt. He said the company's first priority was to maintain its competitiveness.
The union members were represented in the meeting by Ed Feigen of the AFL-CIO, the US equivalent of the Trades Union Congress, who entered the meeting thanks to a sympathetic shareholder handing over his voting card.
Mr Feigen took Tate's management to task for 'declaring a war on employees' and reminded shareholders that poor productivity at Staley had been blamed for last year's 15 per cent decline in Tate's operating profits. He said shareholder value was at risk because workers were demoralised.
One other shareholder addressed the subject of industrial relations, suggesting to Mr Shaw that, in this case, management should show more flexibility. He was thanked for his 'helpful advice'.
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