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Smithfield Tar Heel Workers Continue Walk Out at World’s Largest Pork Plant

Posted to the IUF website 17-Nov-2006

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Source: UFCW

Hundreds of predominantly Latino and African-American workers walked out of and shut down the world’s largest pork processing plant yesterday in Tar Heel, North Carolina in a spontaneous protest over a recent wave of firings at the plant. The walk out continued this morning. Hundreds of workers arrived at the plant this morning at 5 a.m.

Smithfield Packing in Tar Heel has a long history of firing workers organizing for their rights. The U.S. Court of Appeals recently upheld the National Labor Relations Board findings that Smithfield threatened, harassed, fired and threatened with firing workers engaged in trying to secure the protection of a union contract. In another case, Smithfield was found to have used its private company police force to assault and threaten workers with arrest by federal immigration authorities. “This is nothing new,” says Gene Bruskin, Director of the Smithfield Justice Campaign , “Smithfield consistently violates the law and uses threats, fear and intimidation to keep workers toiling in horrendous conditions.”

The company claims that it fired workers who were unable to match social security numbers given for their employment files to their names which is in direct violation of the regulations of the Social Security Administration. Later, the company said it was complying with requests from the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Neither agency requires that workers be fired if there are discrepancies. “Smithfield fired these workers following a spate of activities in which workers began to stand up and demand their rights.

The timing reeks of Smithfield’s continued pattern of intimidation and fear”, continued Bruskin. In Smithfield operations where workers are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), contract language provides for a systematic and constructive process for workers and the employer to resolve issues such as immigration and work status. “Smithfield is clearly using the issue of mismatched social security number issue as a means to terrorize immigrant workers regardless of their legal status with the express purpose of suppressing the worker-led organizing that is reaching across racial lines in unprecedented numbers,” said Bruskin.

Smithfield Tar Heel has been the subject of two Human Rights Watch reports documenting widespread dangerous conditions. A recent report by Research Associates of America, uses data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to document skyrocketing injuries at the plant. This year alone serious injuries rose at the rate of 80 percent.

Last July, European unions representing workers at Smithfield-owned and related facilities in France, Poland and Spain held an International Union Day of Action in support of Tar Heel workers' struggle for justice. To read a full background on the International Union Day of Action, click here.

Following a number of strings of acquisitions that include Sara Lee Meats and Comtim Romania, Smithfield is emerging as a major player in the European meat packing sector, but has not yet replied to repeated European unions requests to set up a European Works Council.

The Smithfield Justice Campaign is a coalition of immigrant rights, civil rights, faith, labor and student groups has launched a holiday campaign to ask consumers not to use products from the Smithfield plant in Tar Heel at their holiday parties.