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    Packing and Processing

February 2, 2009

Packinghouse Workers Win Solid Wage and Benefits Increases with Smithfield Foods

(Washington, DC) – Two new contracts—one covering 1800 Smithfield/Farmland Foods workers in Crete, Neb., and the other covering 250 Smithfield/Armour Eckrich workers in Mason City, Iowa—raise living standards for meatpacking workers and their families. The contracts negotiated by members of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Locals 271 and 6 provide solid wage increases, lower worker health care costs with improved health care benefits, and retirement security.

More than 10,000 workers at twelve UFCW local unions that are bargaining (or have recently settled) new contracts with Smithfield have been taking unified worksite actions over the past eight months. This unified bargaining approach is sending a strong message to Smithfield that UFCW members are willing to stick together for contracts that raise working conditions and living standards for meatpacking workers across the industry. One of the goals of the program was to show UFCW members at each plant that no one stood alone. Unity bargaining is producing the best contracts in the pork industry and changing the lives of workers.

“We just settled a contract that secures middle class wages and benefits for our families and we did it by working together with our UFCW brothers and sisters in Nebraska and across the country, said Bob Hampton,” chief steward at Local 6 in Mason City. “Smithfield workers are sticking together to make Smithfield jobs quality, middle class jobs you can raise a family on.”

In Mason City, the new four-year contract:

–Increases wages by $1.40 over the four year term of the contract.

–Maintains affordable health insurance and adds improved well child care and a variety of improvements in health care benefits.

–Improves vacation pay.

–Improves retirement.

–Improves sick pay.

In Crete, the new four-year contract:

–Increases wages by at least $1.50 over the four year term of the contract.

–Improves health care coverage with controlled costs to workers.

–Secures retirement.

–Improves working conditions.

These contracts are the latest of several major collective bargaining wins for UFCW packing and food processing members across the country.  The UFCW represents 250,000 workers in this industry.  Smithfield workers at the company’s largest pork processing plant recently voted to join the UFCW after a 15-year campaign.


December 12, 2008

Workers at the World’s Largest Meatpacking Plant Choose Union Representation

Tar Heel, N.C. – Workers at Smithfield Packing in Tar Heel, North Carolina, chose union representation with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW). Workers voted 2041 to 1879 for a voice on the job.

“When workers have a fair process, they choose a voice on the job,” said UFCW Director of Organizing Pat O’Neill. “This is a great victory for the Tar Heel workers. I know they are looking forward to sitting down at the bargaining table with Smithfield to negotiate a contract. The UFCW has constructive union contracts with Smithfield plants around the country. Those union contracts benefit workers, the company and the community. We believe the workers here in Tar Heel can achieve a similar agreement.”

Ronnie Ann Simmons, a veteran of 13 years at the plant said, “We are thrilled. This moment has been a long time coming. We stuck together, and now we have a say on the job.”

Workers at 26 Smithfield-owned facilities around the country already have UFCW representation.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) represents more than 1.3 million workers, primarily in the retail and meatpacking, food processing and poultry industries. The UFCW protects the rights of workers and strengthens America’s middle class by fighting for health care reform, living wages, retirement security, safe working conditions and the right to unionize so that working men and women and their families can realize the American Dream.

December 11, 2008


Tar Heel, N.C. – Workers at Smithfield Packing in Tar Heel, North Carolina, chose union representation with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW).  Workers voted 2041 to 1879 for a voice on the job.

“When workers have a fair process, they choose a voice on the job,” said UFCW Director of Organizing Pat O’Neill. “This is a great victory for the Tar Heel workers. I know they are looking forward to sitting down at the bargaining table with Smithfield to negotiate a contract. The UFCW has constructive union contracts with Smithfield plants around the country. Those union contracts benefit workers, the company and the community. We believe the workers here in Tar Heel can achieve a similar agreement.”

Ronnie Ann Simmons, a veteran of 13 years at the plant said, “We are thrilled. This moment has been a long time coming. We stuck together, and now we have a say on the job.”

Workers at 26 Smithfield-owned facilities around the country already have UFCW representation.

November 20, 2008

Meatpacking Workers Win Solid Wage and Benefits Increases in New Agreement with Smithfield/Patrick Cudahy

(Washington, DC) – A new contract covering 1450 Smithfield/Patrick Cudahy workers in Cudahy, Wis., raises living standards for meatpacking workers and their families. The contract negotiated by union members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1473 provides solid wage increases, lower worker health care costs with improved health care benefits, and greater pension security.

“This is a good contract,” said production worker and UFCW Local 1473 member Ilma Santiago. “Good wages, good health care, and good pension benefits.”

The new five-year contract provides:

  • Wage increase of $1.26, increasing base-wage rates to $12.66  an hour with a top rate of  $32.08 an hour
  • A $175 lump-sum payment
  • Improvements in wellness health care coverage—and a five percent decrease in worker health care costs
  • Increases pension and improves retirement security
  • A $200 annual tool allowance
  • Increases life insurance
  • Increases sick allowance pay
  • Improves vacation benefits
  • Improves funeral and bereavement pay

The Cudahy contract is the latest of several major collective bargaining wins for UFCW packing and food processing members across the country.

“It’s good to have a union, especially in these tough economic times—a UFCW contract means security for my family,” said Santiago.

November 20, 2008


Hyrum, Utah – More than 1,100 workers gained union representation with United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 711 yesterday at the JBS/Swift beef plant (known locally as the E. A. Miller plant) in Hyrum, Utah, after voting overwhelmingly for a voice on the job.

“We stood together for a better future for our families,” said Isaias Lopez, a 22-year veteran of the plant. “That was the first step. Now, we can work on a first contract that brings greater opportunity to our workplace.”

The Hyrum plant has been in operation for over seventy years and became part of the JBS family with their acquisition of Swift meatpacking almost two years ago. It had been the only JBS/Swift plant in the United States that did not have union representation.

“This victory means we’ll have a voice at work,” said plant worker Adalberto Soto. We voted ‘UFCW Yes.’ It was an easy decision, and it was the right decision for our families and our future.”

“When we sit down with management to negotiate that first contract,” continued Soto, “We won’t sit down alone. We’ll stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our ten thousand brothers and sisters at all the JBS/Swift plants across the country, and with all workers in the packing and processing industry. The more workers who unite in our industry—the   more powerful we are to make better lives for our families.”

Yesterday’s result of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election was a culmination of a worker-led campaign designed to give these men and women a stronger voice on the job and more opportunity for their families.

“This is an exciting opportunity for the Hyrum workers,” said Max Aldama, a member of UFCW Local 1149 and an employee at JBS/Swift’s Marshalltown, Iowa plant who assisted workers in organizing their Hyrum plant. “JBS/Swift has always been willing to work honestly and openly with us in Marshalltown, and I know they’ll live up to the high standards they have always set and kept for themselves.”

November 14, 2008

UFCW Local 222 Staff Member Carmen Hacht Receives Health and Safety Award

November 10–Local 222 Recording Secretary Carmen Hacht is the 2007 recipient of the 2008 Tony Mazzocchi Award, an award for excellence in occupational health and safety in the workplace.

Hacht worked at Tyson Foods Inc. meatpacking plant (formerly IBP) in Nebraska for 20 years, playing a role as an active steward from the very beginning of her time there. In the mid-1980s, IBP workers were suffering from high rates of MSDs. Local 222 and the UFCW International’s Safety and Health department filed an OSHA complaint, and IBP receieved one of the highest fines ever for failing to provide a safe and healthy workplace.

Settlement of the citations led to a successful ergonomic program, and Carmen became an “”ergonomic monitor,”” a line worker trained in ergonomics. She was responsible for job analysis, audits of workers on light duty jobs, worker advocacy when workers were injured and needed help getting through the medical system, and monitoring workers training and skills.

Carmen’s work at Local 222 now includes overseeing the ergonomics program at the meatpacking plants. She teaches new monitors what their jobs will entail, and has earned the trust and respect of the plant workers. The UFCW is proud of the contributions that Carmen has made over the years to improving working conditions for thousands of workers.

November 1, 2008

Worker Impact of ICE Raids at Swift

On behalf of the 1.3 million members of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to address this briefing panel about the impact of our broken immigration system on workers across the country.

The UFCW is the largest private sector union in North America—and, one of the largest unions of new immigrant workers in the U.S. with more than 200,000 new immigrants as members.

We are the primary worker representative in industries that are major employers of immigrant workers, meatpacking, food processing and poultry and have a hundred-year history of fighting for safe working conditions and good wages on behalf of packing and processing workers.

Last Tuesday morning, 13,000 workers clocked in to work as they do every day. They didn’t know that government agents would soon storm their worksites dressed in riot gear, brandishing military weapons and locking the doors to prevent anyone from coming in or out. Their mission involved a warrant ICE had obtained to apprehend 170 individuals suspected of identity theft.

The ICE action clearly reached far beyond those 170 suspects. Workers were herded into cafeterias and segregated. In Utah, the ICE agents used skin color to identify the “”suspects.”” In other locations naturalized citizens were separated from the native born.

In effect, people were subjected to a criminal process simply for going to work. In some plants, workers with proper authorization had their identification stripped from them. Many were detained and then transported far from home before being given an opportunity to present their case.

Walter Molina was pulled into the group of detained suspects. His girlfriend wasn’t allowed to bring his valid green card to him at the Grand Island, Nebraska, plant.

Lacking ID, he was transported six hours away to Camp Dodge, Iowa, where, after confirming his status, ICE released him. He was left to fend for himself and had to spend $140 of his own money on a bus ticket home.

Walter’s story was repeated over and over again as workers were held captive by ICE agents and denied both representation by their union and due process to clear themselves before being hauled away to distant cities and other states.

Perhaps the most inhumane result of the ICE action last Tuesday is how it ripped parents away from hundreds of children at schools and with babysitters. In one small school district in Texas, 25 children were left in their care the evening of the raid. In Marshalltown, Iowa, a Hispanic ministry was caring for a breastfeeding infant whose single mother was detained. The baby refused a bottle and was struggling to eat. ICE transported her mother to a Georgia detention facility two days later. To this day, one week later, there a small child still with a non-relative babysitter. We still cannot locate its only parent presumed to be caught up in this raid.

There are still hundreds, if not thousands, of children – U.S.-born citizens – left under the care of neighbors, friends, relatives or local charities. The loss of breadwinners has left families unable to pay for food, shelter, or heat.

The real tragedy here is that none of this had to happen. Just last month, four workers from the Louisville, Kentucky, Swift meat packing plant were arrested by ICE agents as part of this same investigation. ICE officials calmly went into the plant and extracted the four individuals who they were looking for. The Louisville plant was not raided on Tuesday.

Government agents could have approached all of the plants the same way they approached the Louisville facility. They could have but they choose not to do so. To date, only 65 people have been charged with identity theft.

Let me be clear, the UFCW does not condone identity theft or any illegal activity. Our union supports law enforcement doing its job. In fact, we represent many law enforcement officers across the country. But we have a real problem when law enforcement goes too far—and in the Swift raids law enforcement was more about politics and making a splash than about apprehending individuals suspected of identity theft.

There are those who say that family disruption is the price parents pay for breaking the law. But indiscriminate military-style raids that sweep up people like Walter Molina are aimed more at visiting trauma and fear on entire workforces and communities than apprehending individuals who may have broken the law. Worksite raids, family disruption, criminalizing work – this is not an effective immigration system.

The core issue here is a failed immigration system that compounds its failure by victimizing workers. The Basic Pilot Program has been laden with problems since its inception. In the case of the Swift raids, you have a company that was, by and large, in compliance with Basic Pilot. That didn’t stop ICE from storming the plants, refusing to allow workers to meet with their union representatives, denying attorney access to workers, and casting whole communities into turmoil.

The recent IMAGE program allows companies to opt into a procedure that can provide cover for firing workers who speak up for workplace safety and other protections.

Immigration policy must face reality. We have to face the reality that corporations export jobs in search of cheap wages and weak labor laws. And other companies that can’t export jobs import workers to create a domestic pool of exploitable labor.

These companies lure undocumented immigrants to the U.S. to create a low-wage, disposable workforce in this country. They advertise for workers outside U.S. borders. They utilize labor contractors. They use current workers to recruit more workers. They pay immigrants less, offer fewer benefits, and threaten them with deportation if they stand up for better wages, working conditions, or try to organize a union.

The failure of trade policy to include strong, enforceable labor standards has created a vast international labor pool that lives and works without rights or hope for the future. This is the reality we face.

Raiding workplaces, breaking up families, and devastating communities offer no genuine or sensible answer to this situation. Temporary worker programs are not the solution.

It is put forward by advocates as a realistic and humane way to deal with the issue of immigration—after all, companies require a labor force and immigrant workers seek employment.

But the true reality of temporary worker would institutionalize our current system, where immigrant workers are preyed upon and used as a wedge to lower wages and working conditions for all workers, especially in the many industries that require hard physical labor—and it wouldn’t be difficult to speculate that the Swift ICE raids were intended to build political will for temporary worker.

Temporary worker would officially relegate immigrants to second class status and give companies another excuse to turn permanent jobs that pay well into low-wage, no-benefit, and no-future jobs.

Guestworker, or Temporary worker as it is now called, has historically led to the mistreatment of workers.

Temporary worker, particularly in industries that do not require college or even high school degrees, inherently provide employers with the opportunity to abuse and exploit workers.

We have laws that say workers must have a safe workplace, but the laws are useless if workers can take no action under the law without fear of deportation.

We have laws that say workers can take collective action to improve working conditions, but employers will and do end workers’ guestworker status and, therefore, employment for any number of reasons when, coincidentally, those workers happen to be speaking out on behalf of safer workplaces or forming a union.

I have witnessed just this kind of action on the part of employers. American democracy works because it’s inclusive. If you live and work in America, you ought to be able to participate in the decision-making that governs your life. But temporary worker would permanently exclude individuals who contribute to our economic wellbeing from participating in our democratic process.

If America is about anything, it is about hope—especially hope to achieve the American dream.

We must have an immigration system that helps turn that hope into reality for all workers, new immigrant and native-born. We must have comprehensive reform—and that reform should rest on four basic principles:

1) A system that authentically regulates legal entry into this country.

2) One that criminalizes employer recruitment and importation of undocumented labor.

3) It must provide a path to legalization for immigrants who have worked here for years, paying taxes and contributing to their communities.

4) And it must ensure that our immigration processes do not provide employers an incentive to undermine workplace standards that lower wages and benefits for all workers.

We have seen thousands of immigrant workers killed, injured and maimed on the job. We have seen immigrant workers crammed into substandard housing. We have seen millions of immigrant workers underpaid and overworked, used up and then dumped, without rights or regard for their well-being.

The Swift raids are simply the latest in a long chain of abuse resulting from the failure of our immigration system.

It must stop. This is America and that should still mean something to all of us. We must challenge our country to be the America that has been the hope of immigrants, and all workers, for more than two centuries.

Thank you.

October 30, 2008

Doing the Work of America: Food and Commercial Workers Mobilize for Immigrant Worker Rights


Immigrant Workers Put Food on the Table for America’s Families

> En Español

UFCW Statement on Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride

The nation’s largest private sector union and the largest workers’ organization in the food industry, the 1.4 million member United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), is mobilizing to protect the rights of immigrant workers who now comprise the majority of the workforce in much of America’s meat and food processing industry.

UFCW members and leaders are “”getting on the bus”” for the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Seattle, Miami, Minneapolis, Houston, and Chicago.

“”We are bringing a message of hope to immigrant workers. The workers who are doing America’s work— the hard work— the dangerous work— the work that puts food on the dinner table for America’s families. We believe, that if you do the work, you’ve earned the opportunity for legal status, a living wage and respect for your rights. We are calling on America to recognize the contribution of some its most valuable workers,”” said UFCW President Doug Dority.

The UFCW has been aggressively organizing immigrant workers in the meatpacking industry for more than three decades. From Southeast Asian refugees during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s to Latin American and African immigrants of today, the UFCW has been fighting to open the door to the American dream for a new generation of immigrants. A century ago, immigrants from Central and Southern Europe sweated and struggled in the meatpacking industry as chronicled in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Today, in non-union plants, conditions rival those of a century ago with high injury rates, high turnover and low wages.

“”Employers ruthlessly exploit immigrant workers, who often have no understanding of workplace rights and who live in constant fear of deportation. While the government cannot effectively stop employers from recruiting and importing immigrant workers solely for the purpose of economic exploitation, the government does effectively suppress these workers in the struggle against exploitation through allowing employers’ to threaten INS enforcement action against them. To protect American workplace standards, we must legalize and organize immigrant workers to stop the widespread abuse of worker rights,”” according to Dority.

The Immigrant Worker Freedom Ride draws on the experience of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Building bridges to the broader community and drawing strength from the struggles of the past connects today’s immigrants to a support network that can mobilize the social and political power to open the eyes, move the heart and change the laws of America to recognize the rights of immigrant workers.

UFCW activities are featured at stops in Omaha, Nebraska, and Fayetteville. North Carolina.

A rally in Omaha will focus on a community-wide, industry-wide organizing effort in the area’s meatpacking industry. From organizing soccer leagues to organizing unions, community and UFCW activists are building a model for empowering immigrant workers and winning community support. Nebraska’s Republican Governor responded to the effort with a proclamation of a “”Bill of Rights”” for meatpacking workers. The effort has led to organization and a union contract for immigrant workers at three Omaha area plants.

UFCW contracts for immigrant workers have produced tangible improvements in workers’ lives including wage increases and affordable, family health insurance. Union contracts also:

> protect immigrant workers from unfair firings;

> protect workers from discrimination based immigration status; and,

> provide workers with representation and impartial arbitration to protect their rights.

The contracts also establish multi-cultural funds that provide resources for programs such as safety training in Spanish and English as a second language classes.

According to Dority, “”Every worker has an interest in stopping the exploitation of immigrant workers. If employers can get away violating the rights of any worker, they will soon be able to exploit all workers. Immigrant workers are the victims in a system that wants their labor, but would at the same time deny them the rights and rewards of their work. That’s not the American way. When the buses stop in New York, the work begins to re-ignite the flame on the Statue of Liberty to light the way to human rights for this generation of immigrants.””

The UFCW has been fighting back against workplace discrimination against immigrant workers. With a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, the UFCW produced an award- winning Spanish-language video, “”Acuérdense Siempre de Sus Derechos”” (Always Know Your Rights), to help workers protect themselves against employer abuse. Copies of the video are available by emailing press@ufcw.org


October 30, 2008


Washington  DC—Immigrants are workers, not criminals.

Legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives—H.R. 4437—would criminalize and scapegoat immigrant workers for failed U.S. policies.

The combination of America’s broken immigration system and a trade policy devoid of worker standards has allowed corporations to create an international labor pool of exploitable workers.   In fact, the U.S.immigration system has been hijacked and privatized by American employers that lure immigrants to this country both to exploit them and drive down wages and working conditions for all workers–especially in low-wage jobs.

We are an immigrant movement. The UFCW has been fighting to organize, represent, and improve wages and working conditions for immigrant workers for decades. Meatpacking and food processing were among the first industries to utilize immigrant labor. A hundred years ago, Polish, Italian, and Southern European immigrants poured into the nation’s packing plants. Today, immigrants from Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Africa  work the processing lines of the packing industry.

Immigration reform must be comprehensive. A constructive immigration policy would respect and provide a legalization process for the millions of immigrant workers already contributing to our economy and society, while protecting wages and workplace protections for all workers—anything less hurts all workers.

October 30, 2008

Iowa Smithfield Workers Ratify Strong New Contract


Sioux City, Iowa– Nearly a thousand workers represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 1142 voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new contract with Smithfield Foods at the companys John Morrell Plant in Sioux City, Iowa. The four- and a half-year agreement delivers wage increases that keep plant workers at the top of the industry standard and maintains affordable health care.

Weve been at the bargaining table since last October, said UFCW Local 1142 President Warren Baker. The negotiations were contentious. Theres always give and take, but, in the end, we arrived at a fair settlement.””

The new contract establishes:

–Wage increases including $1.50/hr. base wage increase over the life of the contract for production workers and $1.65/hr. base wage increase for maintenance workers.

–Maintains affordable health care, with no co-premium increases in the first or last half year of the contract. Weekly increases of $1.50 for individual and $3 for family coverage are triggered in years two, three, and four of the contract.

–Maintains pension security

–Increases sick pay

–Improves working conditions

The contract is really good in terms of the health insurance, said Gary Petz, who has worked at the plant for 23 years. Overall, the good wage increases and benefits are a result of everyone sticking together for a contract that provides security for our families.