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    News and Updates

    Packing and Processing

June 13, 2007

FOOD AND COMMERCIAL WORKERS APPLAUD CONGRESSIONAL EFFORT TO FORCE OSHA TO DO ITS JOB

Washington DC—The UFCW applauds Congressional efforts to force the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to regulate Diacetyl—a dangerous chemical that has killed at least three workers and injured hundreds of others. Today, U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) introduced H.R. 2693, a bill which would compel OSHA to issue a standard regulating worker exposure to this deadly chemical.

Diacetyl is a chemical used to impart the flavor of butter in popcorn, pastries, frozen foods, and candy. Each day that they report to work, tens of thousands of food processing workers are exposed to Diacetyl—a dangerous chemical that has been connected to a potentially fatal lung disease. There have been dozens of cases of what has become known as “popcorn workers lung,” or bronchiolitis obliterans—a severe, disabling, and often-fatal lung disease experienced by food industry workers across the nation.

Despite compelling evidence that Diacetyl presents a grave danger and significant risk of life threatening illness to employees exposed to the chemical, there are currently no OSHA standards requiring exposures to be controlled.

Last year, The UFCW, together with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, petitioned the Department of Labor (DOL) to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard to stop the continued risk of Diacetyl exposure to workers. Forty-two of the nation’s leading occupational safety scientists signed on to an accompanying letter agreeing that there is more than enough evidence for OSHA to regulate this dangerous chemical. Still, OSHA did not act.

“OSHA has been sitting on evidence that there is a direct correlation between Diacetyl and popcorn workers lung for years. By not regulating this dangerous chemical, OSHA has neglected its responsibility to food workers,” said Jackie Nowell, UFCW Safety & Health Director. “The idea that it would take an act of Congress to get OSHA to do its job and protect workers is appalling.”

May 31, 2007

Gerald Robert Menapace, former UFCW International Secretary-Treasurer, Passes Away

Gerald Robert “”Jerry”” Menapace, who rose from a production worker at the hog slaughter at Goetz Packing in Baltimore, Md., to the second highest office of the United Food and Commerical Workers International Union, passed away at his home on Sunday, May 27, from a heart attack.

“”The UFCW family is deeply saddened by the passing of Jerry Menapace. He was a friend and leader whose commitment to working people improved the lives of tens of thousands of working families. He was an inspiration to all of us,”” said UFCW International President Joe Hansen.

Menapace’s father, uncles, and grandfathers were all active in the United Mine Workers of America. When he was 20, Menapace joined Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen Local 149 (Now UFCW Local 27). Within two years, he became a union activist first serving as a local union representative, and later rising to the presidency of his local union. In 1974, he was elected an International Vice President of the Meat Cutters.

After the 1979 merger with the Retail Clerks International Union that formed the UFCW, Menapace became a UFCW International Vice President. In 1982, he became special assistant to the International President. He was named director of the Retail Division in 1984, and elected International Secretary-Treasurer in 1986 and re-elected in 1988.

Menapace’s leadership reflected his lifelong commitment to workers. Throughout his career he was an active champion for civil rights and social justice, deeply committed to the struggle for racial equality in Baltimore and in the entire U.S. He was a lifelong member of the NAACP.

He never forgot his commitment to workers, reminding people often that, “”the union exists solely for the benefit of members. Officers come and go. People live and die. The union goes on forever.””

Menapace was a native of Atlas, Pa., and graduated from public schools in his hometown. He spent four years in the Navy, serving in Africa during the Korean War as a radio operator. He completed a two-year program in labor relations at Harvard University.

Menapace is survived by his wife, Jeanne Dawson and six sons—David Menapace of Waynesboro, Pa., Danny Menapace of Cumberland, Martin Menapace of Hapeville, Ga., Douglass Menapace of Phoenix, Md., Jeffrey Menapace of Hawthorne, N.J., and Steven Menapace of Bel Air; two daughters, Kathleen Menapace of Baltimore and Elizabeth Stewart of Huntington, W. Va.; a brother Robert Menapace of Northumberland, Pa.; a sister, Jacqueline Bolger of Roslyn, Pa., 17 grandchildren, and two great-granddaughters.

May 30, 2007

MEATPACKING WORKERS STAND UP FOR A VOICE ON THE JOB

(Windom, Minn.) – Meatpacking workers at PM Beef stood strong against employer intimidation to vote in favor of representation by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1161 on Friday, May 25, 2007.   The 500 PM Beef workers, who work in a full-scale cattle slaughtering and processing plant, sought out a voice on the job to address basic worker needs on the job – protection from dangerously fast line speeds and access to bathroom breaks.

“The PM beef workers fought hard for the opportunity to have a voice on the job.  Their victory is significant 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.

The majority Latino workforce withstood a heavy-handed anti-worker campaign by the company.  Using hired gun lawyers, PM Beef pulled workers from the processing line to hold mandatory meetings with supervisors.  Workers were subjected to one-on-one meetings with plant management for a month leading up to the election date.

According to American Rights at Work, more than 78 percent of workers face these kinds of captive audience meetings when organizing a union.  Employers like PM Beef use the forced meetings to question workers about how they plan to vote, spread misinformation about the union and make workers fearful for speaking out in support of union representation.

What are rarely addressed in captive audience meetings are real solutions to the problems that inspired workers to organize.  At PM Beef, that included the company’s policy of requiring workers to pay for their own knives when one broke or became unusable on the line.

“Workers withstood one-on-one meetings with bosses to maintain their solidarity and courage to vote together for UFCW representation,” said Williamson.  “Their successful campaign will inspire other area meatpacking and other processing workers to stand up for respect and dignity on the job.”

The UFCW represents more than 250,000 workers in the meatpacking, poultry and food processing industries and has been on the frontlines of advocacy for comprehensive immigration reform (www.ufcw.org/issues/immigration).

May 7, 2007

Statement by Joseph T. Hansen, International President, United Food and Commercial Workers Union

Washington DC—Today’s launch of the Coalition to Advance Healthcare Reform (CAHR) marks the first serious entry of the business community as full participants into the national healthcare reform debate. The nearly 40 major companies currently signed onto CAHR bring a new and positive momentum to the growing mandate for political action on our national healthcare crisis.

A great many of the companies have union workforces, including Safeway, Kroger, Supervalu, Raleys, Heinz, General Mills, Clorox, Del Monte Foods and CVS among others, whose workers are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). These companies have long been committed to and engaged in the issue of providing good healthcare coverage to employees through the collective bargaining process.

Escalating costs, declining healthcare access for more and more Americans, as well as compromised quality, leave those at the bargaining table to deal with a national crisis that can only be solved with a national political solution.

Compounding the situation is the lack of fairness in our current healthcare system that allows irresponsible employers—like Wal Mart—to shift their healthcare costs onto taxpayers and responsible employers.

The UFCW has long been a supporter of universal, affordable and quality health care coverage for all Americans.   And we believe that a broad-based effort of all Americans is fundamental to achieving that goal. Responsible members of the business community have a large role to play in this effort, and we applaud CAHR for bringing them into the national healthcare dialogue.

America’s workers need universal healthcare. CAHR principles represent an important contribution in the effort to adopt healthcare reform that is fair to everyone in our society, can control costs, and provide universal access to quality healthcare all Americans.

We look forward to working with CAHR, and will continue working with lawmakers, advocacy groups and other unions to solve our country’s health care crisis.

UFCW President Joe Hansen was the only labor representative on the 14 member Citizens’ Health Care Working Group mandated by Congress to make recommendations to the President and Congress for solving the healthcare crisis. The Working Group engaged nearly 40,000 Americans in an historic national dialogue over a nearly two- year period and submitted its recommendations last September. They can be accessed at:  www.ufcw4healthcare.org

April 27, 2007

Townsends Workers Put Focus on Wage and Hour Irregularities

 

(Siler City, NC) — Townsends workers fighting for better conditions at the Siler City and Pittsboro, North Carolina, poultry plants have begun investigating widespread worker claims of underpayment for time worked and other violations of federal wage and hour laws.  Townsends workers have been working to organize a union with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW).

During the ongoing union organizing campaign, workers have regularly complained about Townsends changing clocks in the factory, forcing the workers to pay for necessary equipment, and not paying for worked time.  Many workers believe Townsends does this because they don’t think the immigrant workforce will complain.

“The law is clear – employers like Townsends are required to pay workers for all the time they work. That includes the time it takes putting on and taking off required safety equipment.  Townsends seems to believe workers at their plants in Siler City and Pittsboro should provide their labor as a gift to the company. They deserve to be paid for all of their work—including any unpaid work they’ve already performed—and it’s one of the reasons the workers are forming a union,” said Mark Lauritsen, UFCW International Vice President and Director of the union’s Food Processing, Packing and Manufacturing Division.

Pittsboro employee Samuel Tapia Alavarado said, “We work hard. We deserve to be paid and treated fairly at Townsends.   They deduct work supplies from our checks. They do not even pay us for our prep time. It is time for Townsends to stop treating us like second class citizens.  We are forming a union to improve conditions for all immigrants and all workers in the polleras.”

UFCW will be supporting the May 1 immigrant rights rally in Raleigh-Durham.  Last year, workers and immigrants marched on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform.  “Abuse of immigrant workers is a practice many employers use to lower working standards for all workers in numerous economic sectors, including the poultry sector,” said Lauritsen. “And it’s one of the prime reasons the UFCW supports comprehensive immigration reform.”

Townsends worker Paulo Faustino agrees: “The abuses to immigrant workers in the polleras must stop. With a union we will have the legal power to win improvements and changes.  We deserve to be treated and paid fairly. We should not allow ourselves to be intimidated by what the company says. It is our right to take a stand to improve conditions for all immigrants and all workers in the polleras. That’s why we are forming a union with UFCW.”

“Workers at Townsends deserve the chance to have a voice on the job for improved safety, living wages and respect for all workers.  The UFCW intends to make that happen,” continued Lauritsen.

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) represent 1.3 million workers across North America.  UFCW members work in poultry and meatpacking plants, food processing facilities, retail stores and supermarkets. The UFCW is about workers helping workers achieve better wages, better benefits, and safer working conditions. Despite the challenges of soaring health care premiums, costly prescription medications, retirement insecurity, and economic instability, the UFCW is a powerful voice for working men and women, leading efforts to protect and improve the livelihoods of all workers.

February 6, 2007

Jose Guardado, Meatpacking Worker and Union Activist

My name is Jose Guardado and I worked at the Nebraska Beef meatpacking plant in Omaha, Nebraska for 8 years. I worked on the kill floor where we faced more than 2500 steers each day.

I came to this country to follow the American dream. I thought that in the most powerful country in the world, workers were free to express themselves. I thought the laws protected workers who wanted to form a union. I was wrong. Instead, I found that when employers break every law, abuse workers and silence our voices, no one does anything to stop them.

My co-workers and I wanted a union at work to fight back against the dangerous working conditions, the lack of respect, and abusive treatment. We all signed cards showing our support for the UFCW.

The law wasn’t enough to stop Nebraska Beef from campaigning against us. The company terrified workers from standing up for their rights. They threatened to fire union supporters, threatened to call immigration and deport the Latinos and threatened to close the plant. They promised to slow down the line and treat everyone better. On the day of the elections, Nebraska Beef brought in a bunch of workers from another company plant to vote against the union.

Workers were scared. No one wanted to lose their job. The company won the vote by a small number. The line was sped back up and no one was given what was promised to them.

Then, Nebraska Beef began firing union supporters. I knew they were watching and waiting for me to make a mistake, so I was very careful. But the company fired me. My insurance was terminated weeks before they fired me and I had to pay $1,000 out of my own pocket for doctor’s visits and medicine. Meanwhile, they still took $20 out of the last three paychecks for health insurance that I didn’t have.

This company took away my livelihood and hurt my family just to keep us from organizing a union. Many other workers were fired or quit because they were so afraid.

Now, workers at Nebraska Beef still suffer the abuse and indignity that existed before the union campaign. Workers are still being threatened and fired. And, there is no way to ever have a fair election there.

We need this law to protect workers’ rights. We need this law to help workers who want to have safer working conditions and a better life with union representation.

February 6, 2007

EMPLOYEE FREE CHOICE ACT TO CLEAR PATH FOR WORKPLACE FAIRNESS

(Washington, DC) — For most Americans, the suggestion of an election sounds like the most reasonable, fair decision-making process around. But in America’s workplaces, union elections turn into a process for terminations, intimidation, fear and abuse at the hands of employers. Union elections turn into extremely undemocratic processes for thousands of workers.

Jose Guardado is one of them. Speaking out in support of the Employee Free Choice Act, Mr, Guardado recounted his experience attempting to organize a union at Nebraska Beef meatpacking plant in Omaha, Nebraska.

“”I came to this country to follow the American dream. I thought that in the most powerful country in the world, workers were free to express themselves,”” said Jose Guardado, a meatpacking worker and union activist. “”I thought the laws protected workers who wanted to form a union. I was wrong. Instead, I found that when employers break every law, abuse workers and silence our voices, no one does anything to stop them.””

Guardado was a leader in an organizing drive at the Nebraska Beef meatpacking plant where more than 900 workers signed cards to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW). As the workers’ campaign gained strength, the company began a vicious anti-union campaign. The company harassed union supporters, threatened to close the plant, threatened to call immigration and terrified union supporters who stood up for a voice on the job. The company’s illegal anti-union campaign narrowly defeated the worker organizing effort but resulted in numerous NLRB charges. Jose, like several other workers, felt like a marked man in the plant due to his leadership role in the organizing drive. The company eventually fired him.

Today, Mr. Guardado is a member of UFCW Local 271 and works at XL Four Star Beef in Omaha. He continues his fight for justice and a voice on the job for workers at Nebraska Beef.

“”Workers at Nebraska Beef still suffer the abuse and indignity that existed before the union campaign. Workers are still being threatened and fired. And, there is no way to ever have a fair election there. We need this law to protect workers’ rights. We need this law to ensure that workers everywhere have a chance to make the American dream a reality for their families,”” said Guardado.

January 3, 2007

AFL-CIO and UFCW Sue Bush Administration to End Eight-Year Delay on Rule Requiring Employers to Pay for Safety Equipment

(Washington, Jan. 3) – – The AFL –CIO and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) today sued the U.S. Department of Labor over its failure to issue a standard requiring employers to pay for personal protective equipment (PPE) – – a standard which has been delayed for nearly eight years.  This Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule would require employers to pay the costs of protective clothing, lifelines, face shields, gloves and other equipment used by an estimated 20 million workers to protect them from job hazards.
The lawsuit asserts that the Bush Administration’s failure to act is putting workers in danger.  By OSHA’s own estimates, 400,000 workers have been injured and 50 have died due to the absence of this rule.  The labor groups say that workers in some of America’s most dangerous industries, such as meatpacking, poultry and construction, and low-wage and immigrant workers who suffer high injury rates, are vulnerable to being forced by their employers to pay for their own safety gear because of OSHA’s failure to finish the PPE rule.
The rule was first announced in 1997 and proposed in 1999 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) after a ruling by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission that OSHA’s existing PPE standard could not be interpreted to require employers to pay for protective equipment.  The new rule would not impose any new obligations on employers to provide safety equipment; it simply codifies OSHA’s longstanding policy that employers, not employees, have the responsibility to pay for it.
In 1999, OSHA promised to issue the final PPE rule in July 2000.  But it missed that deadline and has missed every self-imposed deadline since.  The agency has failed to act in response to a 2003 petition by the AFL-CIO and UFCW and numerous requests by the Hispanic Congressional Caucus.  The lawsuit filed today seeks to end this eight-year delay, calling it “egregious.”
“”Nothing is standing in the way of OSHA issuing a final PPE rule to protect worker safety and health except the will to do so.  It is long overdue that the agency take action on protective equipment.  Now, we are asking the courts to force OSHA to act,”” said Joseph Hansen, UFCW International President.
 “The Bush Administration’s failure to implement even this most basic safety rule spotlights how it has turned its back on workers in this country,” said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.  “Too many workers have already been hurt or killed.  The Bush Department of Labor should stop looking out for corporate interests at the expense of workers’ safety and health on the job.”
 The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, asks the court to issue an order directing the Secretary of Labor to complete the PPE rule within 60 days of the court’s order.
December 21, 2006

PECO POULTRY WORKERS RAISE LIVING STANDARDS WITH NEW UFCW CONTRACT

Peco poultry workers have negotiated a new contract that will bring positive changes in the lives of the approximately 230 workers at the Brookville, Miss. plant.  The contract was approved unanimously by workers this Wednesday.

As members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 1991, Brookville Peco workers secured a contract that will guarantee wage raises, improved benefits, and will hold the company to more rigorous health and safety standards.

Highlights of the new agreement will include:

  • Guaranteed wage increase to $9.65/hr for those who have worked at the plant for 2 years or more;
  • An upgrade in the salary of premium jobs totaling 20-60 cents an hour;
  • Substantial pay increases for maintenance workers of 50 cents an hour for each year worked at the plant;
  • A change in health insurance plans that will eliminate deductibles and bring significant cost savings to employees;
  • Establishment of bereavement leave as opposed to funeral leave, granting workers more time to mourn the death of a loved one;
  • New safety equipment standards including additional time and stations to clean safety equipment and the required replacement of worn-out equipment by the employer;
  • Optional orientation on union membership for those interested in joining.

“UFCW members from the Peco plant stood together and demonstrated the determination necessary to win a groundbreaking contract that will improve the lives of Brookville families and benefit the local economy as poultry workers have more money to spend,” said Eddie James, President of UFCW Local 1991.  “This just shows that solidarity gives us strength at the bargaining table so that we can improve the lives of working people and their families.”

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December 12, 2006

FOOD AND COMMERCIAL WORKERS SEEKS FEDERAL INJUNCTION TO END ATTACKS AGAINST WORKERS IN MEATPACKING PLANTS

Washington DC—The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) is seeking an immediate injunction in federal court, today, on behalf of workers employed by Swift and Company packing operations in Texas, Colorado, Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota.

The workers were subjected to a wholesale round up, including detention, by Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

“Essentially, the agents stormed the plants, many of them in riot gear, in an effort designed to terrorize the workforce,” said Mark Lauritsen, director of the UFCW Food Processing, Packing and Manufacturing division.

The UFCW represents workers at the Swift and Company plants, as well as other major packers around the country.

“This kind of action is totally uncalled for,” said Lauritsen. “It’s designed to punish workers for working hard everyday, contributing to the success of their companies and communities. They are innocent victims in an immigration system that has been hijacked by corporations for the purpose of importing an exploitable workforce.”

For years, the UFCW has called for comprehensive immigration reform—reform that provides an orderly immigration process that protects worker rights, ensures good wages and benefits for all workers, and recognizes the contributions immigrants make to our society.

“We are advising all the detained workers to exercise their right to an attorney and remain silent until they confer with counsel. These actions today by ICE are an affront to decency.”