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Smithfield Quits Talks on Union Recognition at Tar Heel Plant

Posted to the IUF website 16-Oct-2007

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On October 15, Smithfield management walked out of talks on union recognition for the 5,500 workers at its Tar Heel plant in North Carolina, USA, the world's largest pork processing facility. Workers there have been struggling for over a decade against threats, firings and deportations for the right to be represented by the UFCW.

Pressure had been building on management since the August shareholders meeting, where mass protests and over 3,500 letters from unionized Smithfield workers around the world called on management to enter into talks with the UFCW. Over one thousand letters were gathered through the IUF from members in France, Poland and Spain. The UFCW had maintained a flexible position at the talks, offering to forego a "card check" - signed statements by workers in support of union representation - if ways could be found to hold an election free of management pressure. Smithfield chose to walk away from the table.

Workers at the plant immediately condemned the management decision to turn their backs on the talks, recalling in a media statement that the company has a long history of violating union representation election rules:

"During the first election in 1994 they committed serious violations and fired several pro-union workers. After the Labor Board issued a complaint Smithfield agreed to a second election in 1997 and promised not to do the same thing. In fact their conduct was worse. They even brought the county Sheriffs in and created an armed camp on the days we voted. The legal rulings found that Smithfield assaulted, intimidated, threatened, illegally fired and even hurled racial slurs at the workers during the election. Smithfield’s actions during the 1997 election terrorized the workforce. Years later, workers still clearly remember how workers were fired, threatened and harassed.
In May 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld all the charges that the Labor Board found against the company.

"Since the May, 2006 ruling, Smithfield has continued its aggressive campaign to harass and intimidate us from choosing to have UFCW representation at work. We work under unsafe conditions that Smithfield refuses to address. Injured workers are denied good medical treatment and cast aside. And Smithfield continues to intimidate and retaliate against workers who speak out for worker rights. Several of the strongest and most outspoken union supporters were fired over the past nine months. Smithfield has illegally discouraged workers from distributing literature and has even issued its own literature that is threatening and illegal. For months daily TV ads have been running on English and Spanish stations comparing UFCW organizers to Mafia thugs scaring workers in their homes.

Every month hundreds of new hires are shown a video that lies about the company’s role in attacking workers rights during previous NLRB elections. The company illegally asks new hires to sign a letter written by the company calling for another election like the ones that have failed in the past. This is a violation of Federal labor law and we are filing charges. Smithfield even has signs up in the plant that say that union organizers are like roaches."

The Justice at Smithfield is calling for messages to the company CEO and Vice President, urging Smithfield to return to the table and negotiate in good faith. To send a message to Smithfield in support of these demands click here