August 12, 2014
In this week’s member spotlight, we spoke with Local 1208 Member Patricia Bryant who works at Smithfield Foods in North Carolina. Patricia’s story is an inspiring one.
Originally from Ontario, Canada, where she grew up around uncles who had been active in auto unions at the nearby GM plants, Patricia worked as both an illustrator and registered nurse before moving South later in life. After arriving in North Carolina, she needed work and began working at Mountaire Farms, where she remained for a year. Looking for a better job, she moved on to nearby Smithfield Foods, where she has worked and been a union member for almost two years now.
After about a year at Smithfield, Patricia wanted to become more involved in the union and became a steward. She was motivated after seeing some injustices taking place behind the poultry production lines where she worked–such as seeing her coworkers, which Patricia refers to as her friends, being pushed too hard to keep up with fast line speeds, which damage their joints over time. Becoming a steward allowed her to learn more about the rules of the plant and what resources being a union member enabled her to use in order to deal with issues at the workplace.
Patricia says that they now have a new supervisor who actually listens to the workers: “When I talked to him about issues on the line, he opened his eyes to them and heard us out.”
When asked why she believes being active in one’s union is important, Patricia notes that if you can go out of your way to help a fellow person, you should:
“I’ve always been a big mouth,” she laughs, “I think its important because I’ve had the opportunity to go to school and learn about these things–and I don’t think everyone has had that chance–so I have the responsibility to speak out for all those who can’t, and to help others. Being on the line and seeing all these things first hand, I have to.”
“I think unions make better working conditions for everybody,” she adds.
Patricia learned that Local 1208 was holding a talent contest, which invited singers, poets, writers, and anyone else to offer up their talents. So Patricia went to Local 1208 President Keith Ludlum and said she’d be willing to paint–a gift she says she gives up to God. Keith gladly accepted Patricia’s offer and told her that that Local would love to have a mural that included Martin Luther King Jr. and former President John F. Kennedy painted on one of their walls. So paint she did. Patricia says she’s been painting since she was 12 years old. “If I see something beautiful, I just have to paint it!”
Now, with the Local planning to potentially move offices, Patricia is planning another mural for Local 1208. She wants to create a surreal painting that features metallic, industrial type imagery and workers, to represent her friends, she says.
Patricia is actively involved in the campaign at Mountaire Farms as well. She has been to two organizing actions, where she sees her friends and former coworkers as they drive into work,and recently attended a gathering of Mountaire workers in which actor Danny Glover came to speak in support of them.
“It’s fun,” she says of the actions, “and when my friends see me wave, pushing for them, hopefully they’ll see that there’s something better on the other side.”
Having worked at Mountaire Farms for a year, and seeing how the union makes a difference at Smithfield, Patricia fights hard for her friends who still work at Mountaire.
“They are going through a whole lot more [than us]–lower pay, benefits that aren’t as good–my friends there work for their families that they are trying to support, and have bills to pay. If they are able to see a light at the end of the tunnel, I gotta push for them. These are good people–they go to work everyday, on time, but the industry tends to make us machines with a number. That’s why I’m yelling and pounding the pavement at these actions.”
Patricia also remembers a friend who she worked with at Mountaire, who came from Africa against her will, and ended up at Mountaire. “She works long hours, and has three kids by herself. If she made a little bit more, she could maybe send for her brother that she’s been trying to bring over from Africa. She deserves a good living.”
Patricia also notes that the employers at Mountaire make it hard for the four main ethnic groups at the plant–Mexican, Haitian, African American, and Caucasion folks–to stand together or in some cases even communicate.
“The Haitians speak French, but they fired their translator so now no one in the plant can talk with them,” she says.
That’s why those helping the workers at Mountaire to unionize are trying to connect with each group about issues that matter to them. Now, many of the workers are coming to meetings and taking through the issues they face on the job.
Patricia fights for her former coworkers and friends because she sees what a difference a union job can make in someone’s life, and she works to better conditions at her job everyday.
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