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Smithfield Foods initiate a wide-ranging lawsuit against US unions

Posted to the IUF website 23-Oct-2007

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Just two days after pulling out of negotiations with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) (click here for background), Smithfield Foods initiated a wide-ranging lawsuit against the US union and some of its allies. The suit was filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, legislation originally designed to tackle organized crime syndicates in the US, and alleges that the UFCW efforts to draw public support for Tar Heel Workers constitutes attempted extortion. The UFCW intends to vigorously fight these baseless allegations. The official union statement on the lawsuit follows. The [email protected] Campaign to bring justice to the workers of Tar Heel continues.

UNITED FOOD AND COMMERCIAL WORKERS INTERNATIONAL UNION (UFCW) STATEMENT ON SMITHFIELD FOODS' BASELESS LAWSUIT

"Washington DC-Smithfield Foods' suit against the UFCW comes as no surprise, given the company's abuse of the law for more than a decade.

The company's violations of worker and trade union rights in the Tar Heel North Carolina, plant are well documented in public records, including illegally firing, intimidating, assaulting, using racial epithets and spying on workers. Twice workers attempted to exercise a choice for union representation at the Tar Heel plant, and twice the company suppressed their rights by violating the law.

The internationally acclaimed and widely respected Human Rights Watch twice issued reports that cited Smithfield for systematic abuse of worker rights.

At Smithfield's nearby Wilson facility, the company engaged in similar misconduct to suppress workers from attaining union representation.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning series in the New York Times exposed how the company fueled racial tensions among white, African American, and Latino workers.

The company has been cited and fined by the EPA and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

It is more than ironic that Smithfield now wants to turn to the law to shield its abusive conduct from public exposure. The company action constitutes hypocrisy of the highest order, seeking to hide behind a frivolous lawsuit that also targets community and religious leaders for advocating on behalf of Smithfield's Tar Heel workers.

In effect, Smithfield's suit attempts to prevent petitioning national and state government bodies with grievances.

It seeks to prevent organizations from informing and petitioning the public to support causes.

It seeks to prevent consumers from learning about the working conditions that exist where products they buy are produced.

It seeks to label national, state, and local public officials, religious and community leaders as unwitting dupes of the UFCW because they support the cause of justice at Smithfield's Tar Heel plant. It seeks to avoid responsibility for company violations of workers' federal right of free association.

It is truly shameful that Smithfield is willing to spend millions of dollars on high-priced lawyers and frivolous lawsuits rather than committing the resources needed to provide basic safety and health improvements for Tar Heel workers.

In concert with other powerful corporations, Smithfield Foods has helped eviscerate labor law in this country. And now these giant corporations are attempting to further exacerbate the imbalance between workers and corporations.

The Smithfield lawsuit is an assault on fundamental American values. It ultimately seeks to ensure that only the voices of the powerful are heard. That corporate conduct is privileged and beyond reproach. And that the workers, consumers, and communities corporations purport to serve have no stake in how an enterprise treats its workforce or serves the communities where they live. Like the golden parachutes CEOs receive regardless of their responsibility for bad business decisions, Smithfield refuses to be accountable for its irresponsible disregard of the law.

The UFCW will aggressively continue to expose Smithfield's irresponsible corporate behavior wherever it occurs. The UFCW will continue to work with community and religious leaders and elected officials in this cause. The UFCW will not be bullied by a baseless lawsuit, and we will continue to struggle for worker justice at the company's Tar Heel facility".