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    News and Updates

    Packing and Processing

January 17, 2008

COLORADO PREMIUM WORKERS VOTE

Greeley, CO—Meatpacking workers at Colorado Premium stood strong against employer intimidation to vote in favor of representation by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 7 on Wednesday, January 16, 2008.

Colorado Premium workers were dedicated to seeking a union to address basic worker needs on the job—protection from dangerously fast line speeds and access to bathroom breaks.  The results of the first election held on December 7, 2007 were thrown out for unlawful employer conduct. NLRB charges were then filed against Colorado Premium after the company intimidated union supporters and offered raises and other bribes to workers who voted against joining the union.

According to American Rights at Work, union elections are marred by a huge number of illegal actions nationwide. Because the penalties for violating the NLRA are so weak, employers have little incentive to avoid illegal tactics if they will succeed in intimidating workers into abandoning the union effort.

“”The Colorado Premium workers struggled for a voice on the job. Their victory did not come easy. This second election is remarkable considering how difficult it is for workers to organize in the face of employer intimidation,”” said Kevin Williamson, UFCW International Vice President and Director, Region 6.

January 10, 2008

AGRIPROCESSORS SLAMMED BY FEDERAL COURT FOR ILLEGALLY DENYING WORKERS A VOICE

(Brooklyn, NY) — Workers at the Agriprocessors distribution center in Brooklyn won a major victory when the U.S. Court of Appeals ordered the company to recognize their vote for a union voice at work.

The court ruled in favor of the workers’ right to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) by reaffirming the long-standing principle that all workers, undocumented or not, have the right to choose a union and bargain collectively.  The company refused to bargain after an overwhelming majority of its distribution center workers voted to join the union in September 2005.

Agriprocessors argued that, despite having hired them, many of these employees were undocumented and therefore, according to Agriprocessors, they could not vote or belong to a union.  The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled against Agriprocessors, maintaining that every employee, regardless of his or her immigration status, have a collective bargaining vote.  Nearly three years later, Agriprocessors lost its appeal in federal court.

Despite the positive ruling, this is just another example of our broken immigration system, specifically the abject failure of the employment verification process. Immigration law should complement, not undercut, the enforcement of labor and employment laws.  Otherwise, the wages, benefits, working conditions, and labor rights of all workers will deteriorate.

“U.S. labor law protects all workers and the UFCW will not allow any company to operate outside of the law and take advantage of its employees,” said Mark Lauritsen, UFCW International Vice President and Director of the Food Processing, Packing and Manufacturing Division.  “The Court of Appeals has sent a clear message to Agriprocessors and other employers who think they can skirt the law and deny workers a voice to make their workplace safer and their jobs better.”

Agriprocessors is one of the nation’s largest kosher meat producers.  The company produces products under the following brand names: Aaron’s Best, Aaron’s Choice, European Glatt, Iowa Best Beef, Nevel, Shor Harbor , Rubashkin’s, Supreme Kosher, and David’s.

 

November 13, 2007

Meatpacking Corporate Power Threatens Jobs and Communities

(Washington, DC) – Today, the nation’s largest meatpacking worker union announced its support for an effort to ban meatpacking corporations from owning livestock   The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) supports a key provision of the Farm Bill (S.2302) that would preserve the structure that keeps food production a stable industry in America’s heartland and protect jobs for hundreds of thousands of workers in the U.S.

A handful of meatpacking corporations dominate the beef and pork industries.  Meatpacking companies have used the changing landscape to own as much livestock as possible.  As a result, farmers have lost business.  In the pork industry, when meatpackers own the hogs from birth to slaughter they can move livestock and production to wherever they can find the cheapest land and labor.

Workers, communities and the environment have paid the price for these disruptions.  Giant hog feedlots with lagoons of hog waste sprung up overnight and overwhelmed the environment and water tables in parts of the country where hog production didn’t exist thirty years ago. Giant processing plants were built near the feedlots to employ a workforce that is beholden to the industry.   Workers at processing plants located in places like Iowa and South Dakota lost their jobs when plants were shuttered and never reopened.

Left unchecked and unregulated, every meatpacking producer will attempt to operate the same way – moving livestock and production to maximize profits, no matter how many jobs and local economies are destroyed in the process.  UFCW’s experience is that meatpacking corporations which own livestock push down wage and benefits levels for all workers in the industry.

U.S. Senators are considering a provision, Section 10207. Prohibition on Packers Owning, Feeding, or Controlling Livestock as part of the 2007 Farm Bill.  This provision would preserve the open market approach to meat production and protect workers and communities from further disruption and exploitation at the hands of giant meatpacking companies.  The UFCW joins more than 200 organizations, including the National Farmers’ Union, in supporting the ban on packer ownership of livestock.

In a full-page ad in today’s issue of Roll Call, UFCW members pointed out that when meatpacking companies own all levels of production, the stability of processing jobs are at risk.

The UFCW represents more than 250,000 workers in the meat packing and food processing industries, including workers at Hormel, Tyson, Cargill and Smithfield Foods.

 

October 17, 2007

LEADING KOSHER MEATPACKING PLANT DELAYS CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT

Cedar Rapids, Iowa– The United States’ leading kosher meatpacking company will appear in federal court today challenging a class action lawsuit filed against the company on behalf of its workers.

The lawsuit alleges that Agriprocessors, a kosher slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa,
has not compensated workers for the time they spend preparing for work at the beginning of the day and cleaning up at the end of it. Such compensation has recently been upheld by the Supreme Court.  Agriprocessors is trying to limit worker participation in its attempt to avoid its obligations under Iowa state law which provides that all employees are automatically plaintiffs in the lawsuit unless they sign a form indicating otherwise.  Agriprocessors is arguing that only federal law applies, which requires employees to sign a form requesting participation in the class action suit.

Working conditions and food safety at the AgriProcessors slaughterhouse have been under scrutiny in the past year.  In May of this year, over 200 workers stood up for their rights and walked out of the plant in protest of the company’s misconduct.

Agriprocessors, one of the nation’s largest kosher meat producers, runs a beef, lamb and poultry processing plant in Postville, Iowa. Agriprocessors produces products under the following brand names: Aaron’s Best, Aaron’s Choice, European Glatt, Iowa Best Beef, Nevel, Shor Harbor , Rubashkin’s, Supreme Kosher, and David’s.

“Essentially the company is trying to undercut the voices of hundreds of workers by delaying the lawsuit and trying to limit their right to recover unpaid wages through overwhelming them with more paperwork and red tape,” says Attorney Brian McCafferty.  McCafferty will be representing the workers today in Cedar Rapids, Iowa federal court.

For more information go to www.eyeonagriprocessors.com.

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October 2, 2007

FARM BILL AMENDMENT WILL WEAKEN AMERICA

Amendment will eliminate a 40-year-old protection in the federal meat and poultry inspection acts

Washington, D.C. – The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) today joined forces with the Consumer Federation of America, Safe Tables Our Priority and other consumer and watchdog groups to oppose an amendment in the Senate Farm Bill that puts consumers and food workers at risk of foodborne illnesses.  The pending amendment will eliminate a 40-year-old protection in the federal meat and poultry inspection acts that bans state inspected meat and poultry from being sold in interstate commerce.  The amendment will also allow meat and poultry plants to forgo federal inspections and increase the risk of foodborne illnesses in the United States.

“Any notion that state inspection systems are equal to the federal system is hogwash,” said Michael J. Wilson, UFCW International Vice President and Director of Legislative and Political Action.  “States have no ability to recall tainted products, and state inspectors are not accountable to consumers in other states.  Any effort to devolve federal oversight of meat and poultry plants to states is a threat to consumer safety and will further subject food workers to unsanitary work conditions.”

For more than 100 years, the UFCW has been fighting to improve the working conditions of food workers and the safety of our food, and currently represents more than a quarter of a million workers in the meatpacking and poultry industries.  In addition to protecting the rights of food workers, the UFCW is also a founding member of the Safe Food Coalition which consists of consumer groups, groups representing victims of foodborne illnesses, and watchdog groups that are dedicated to reducing the incidence of foodborne illnesses in the United States.

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September 25, 2007

FARM BILL PROVISION WILL PUT CONSUMERS AND FOOD WORKERS AT RISK

Provision will compromise food safety by allowing states to forgo federal meat and poultry inspections

Washington, D.C. – The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) joined forces with the American Federation of Government Employees today to oppose a provision in the House Farm Bill that will put consumers at risk of food borne illnesses and further subject food workers to unsanitary work conditions.

The provision will eliminate a 40-year-old protection in the federal meat and poultry inspection acts that bans state inspected meat and poultry from being sold in interstate commerce.  The provision will also allow the vast majority of meat and poultry plants to forgo federal inspection in favor of more lax state inspections, which ultimately puts the health and safety of millions of consumers at risk.

“This amendment will weaken America’s food safety net, pure and simple,” said Michael J. Wilson, UFCW International Vice President and Director of Legislative and Political Action.  “Anyone who pretends that state inspection is the same as federal inspection also believes in the Tooth Fairy.  In addition, it will encourage thousands of facilities who are currently federally inspected to opt for a more ‘friendly’ state inspection.  Like a tainted piece of meat, this provision deserves the stamp of rejection.”

For more than 100 years, the UFCW has been fighting to improve the working conditions of food workers and the safety of our food, and currently represents more than a quarter of a million workers in the meatpacking and poultry industries.  In addition to protecting the rights of food workers, the UFCW is also a founding member of the Safe Food Coalition which consists of consumer groups, groups representing victims of food borne illnesses, and watchdog groups that are dedicated to reducing the incidence of food borne illnesses in the United States.

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September 25, 2007

UFCW Reviving the American Dream for Meatpacking Workers

New Hormel Chain Agreement Raises the Bar for Meat Industry Contracts

(Washington, DC) – A new contract covering 4,000 Hormel workers in five locations secures big wage increases, health care improvements and greater pension security for meatpacking workers and their families. The contract sets a new standard for wages and benefits in the meat industry-one that will allow packing and processing workers to truly live the American Dream.

Five UFCW local unions took unified worksite actions over the past six months – actions that sent a strong message to Hormel that UFCW members are willing to fight and stick together for a contract that would secure wages and benefits that can support a family.

“We haven’t had a contract like this one since the late 1970s.  Wages, health care, and pensions are all increased,” said Mike Marty, a member of UFCW Local 22 in Fremont, Neb.   “We achieved it by working together, engaging our membership across the country and building good old fashioned union solidarity,” Marty said.

United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) members in five locations – Austin, Minn.; Algona, Iowa; Fremont, Neb.; Beloit, Wis.; and Atlanta, Ga. voted to ratify a new four-year contract that includes:

–considerable wage increases including  $1.40/hr base wage increase over four years for production workers and $1.80/hr base wage increase for maintenance workers. The increases bring the average wage for production workers to $15.75 an hour-the top of the industry.

–significant improvements in preventive health care, well baby and well child care, hospice care, home health care, vision care, mental health and substance abuse care, and cancer screening as well as big improvements in dental care. These improvements were achieved with no increase in deductible, and only a minimal increase in co-premiums.

–improved retirement security including increased “pension multipliers” which will mean a greater than 10 % increase in pension checks.

The Hormel contract is the latest of several major collective bargaining wins for UFCW members across the country.  Supermarket workers have engaged in unity bargaining and coordinated worksite actions over the past nine months – resulting in groundbreaking contracts with major national supermarket chains on both the East and West Coasts, Texas, and the Midwest.

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August 14, 2007

BUSH ADMINISTRATION IMMIGRATION PROGRAM WOULD LEGALIZE RACIAL DISCRIMINATION

Statement from the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union

(Washington, DC) – On a hot, quiet August morning in Washington, DC – when the President is on vacation and Congress at recess – the Bush Administration announced an immigration reform package that essentially mandates federal racial discrimination.

The Administration’s guidelines would throw the doors open to racial discrimination to whole classes of people by placing an undue burden on workers who sound foreign, look foreign and particularly, on the tens of millions of Hispanic and Asian-Americans who would face greater scrutiny in the workplace.  It is irresponsible to toss out civil rights for the sake of political gamesmanship.

Considering the circumstances, today’s announcement smacks of nothing more than a publicity stunt aimed at terrifying immigrant workers.  Further, this program lacks the support and mandate of the American people who have been demanding humane, comprehensive immigration reform that addresses the root causes of illegal immigration.  This program offers no solutions, only punishments to workers.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has proven by its past behavior that it is not beyond their scope to traumatize innocent workers, including U.S. citizens, under the guise of immigration enforcement.  During its raids at Swift meatpacking plants last December, all workers, including citizens, legal residents, were held by ICE agents and subjected to unlawful search and seizure.  Law enforcement must uphold and defend the Constitution, not violate it.

Congress and the President promised the American people it would work toward solutions to these problems but both parties have failed.  It is time for our elected leaders to get back to work – not with unauthorized, sweeping gestures like this Bush enforcement program.

More than 250,000 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) work in the meatpacking and food processing industries.  Many of our workplaces include immigrant workers.  Enforcement actions aimed strictly at workplaces like these accomplish nothing in terms of stemming the flow of workers entering the U.S. seeking the American Dream.  Instead, they create huge turmoil in communities, significantly disrupt the otherwise stable production in the plant and violate the civil rights of all workers in the workplace.

The UFCW will continue to fight for reform that ensures that all working people—immigrant and native-born—are able to improve their lives and realize the American dream.

For the UFCW position on immigration go to Issues

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August 10, 2007

UFCW REPORT DETAILS MAJOR FOOD SAFETY CONCERNS AT LEADING KOSHER MEATPACKING PLANT


Investigation Uncovers Startling Violations at Agriprocessors Plant
in
 Postville, Iowa

(Washington, DC) – Research into food safety records at one of the United States’ leading kosher meatpacking plants has unveiled startling violations. United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) researchers will release documents showing a pattern of food safety issues including recalled products, mad cow related safety concerns and repeated fecal and bile contamination.

“We find the USDA safety reports on this plant alarming,” said Jim Blau, assistant director of the UFCW Strategic Resources Department. “They raise troubling concerns about this company.”

Agriprocessors, one of the nation’s largest kosher meat producers, runs a beef, lamb and poultry processing plant in Postville, Iowa. Agriprocessors produces products under the following brand names: Aaron’s Best, Aaron’s Choice, European Glatt, Iowa Best Beef, Nevel, Shor Harbor , Rubashkin’s, Supreme Kosher, and David’s.

Over two-hundred and fifty non-compliance records were issued by the Food Safety and Inspection Service to Agriprocessors, between January 1, 2006 and January 24, 2007. The documents revealed numerous violations that may have increased the risk to consumers of possible food-borne illnesses. Documents also show repeated problems with plant monitoring for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or “mad cow” disease.

The full report is available by request at press@ufcw.org .

“Meat and food processing plants put dinner on the table for American families,” said Blau. “The pattern and scope of violations at Agriprocessors need to be addressed.”

July 11, 2007

ICE AGENTS ARREST WORKERS AT SWIFT PLANTS

Washington, D.C.—The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) announced, today, that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents made a return visit to four Swift and Company plants where workers are represented by the UFCW and arrested approximately four individuals apparently on charges of identity theft, as well as questioning several others.

It does not appear that ICE engaged in the same level of intimidation and overkill as they did in its raids last December at six Swift plants. To the extent this is the case, the UFCW supports law enforcement efforts that abide by the law and respect the rights of workers.

Worksite law enforcement around identity and immigration issues is a symptom of a failed immigration system, and is no substitute for comprehensive reform.

Last month, Congress failed to demonstrate the necessary leadership and persistence to fix our broken system. The UFCW will continue to fight for reform that ensures that all working people—immigrant and native-born—are able to improve their lives and realize the American dream.

For the UFCW position on immigration go to www.ufcw.org and click on issues.