News and Updates
Packing and Processing
November 29, 2005
If a bird flu pandemic were to break out in the United States, workers in America’s poultry industry would be the first to notice sick birds, the first to risk exposure to the deadly virus, and the first to sound the alarm. That’s why the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) has sent a letter to President Bush urging him to initiate coordinated protection for poultry workers on the front lines by initiating a Cabinet-level meeting to discuss worker issues and the potential pandemic.
The poultry industry is a major force in the U.S. economy, generating more than $35 billion per year in revenue. The nation’s 200,000 poultry workers produce 500 million pounds of chicken every week. We must have a plan to protect these workers-the chicken catchers and those that slaughter, process, and package the millions of chickens and turkeys that Americans eat each year.
The Bush administration has taken the first, important steps in containing a potential outbreak of bird flu by discussing and planning the control of the virus at its source-in animals.
However, if we are to avoid a pandemic, America’s plan to contain the bird flu must have a worker component. The Bush administration should consider:
–Direct contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces and objects is considered the main route of human infection. This kind of direct contact is the norm for workers in the poultry industry. A poultry worker immunization program will prevent the spread of the disease and assure the public that a meaningful step has been taken to contain the disease at its source.
–Poultry workers are in the best position to visually identify sick birds and report suspected cases of bird flu. These front line workers are the nation’s best defense against a pandemic, but they will need whistleblower protections in order to avoid discrimination and to assure that profit doesn’t override health and safety.
–Many immigrant, undocumented, or Spanish-speaking poultry workers are unaware of workplace safety regulations. This population is unlikely to ask for safety and health protections such as respirators or flu shots. Unfortunately, a recent sting operation where ICE agents posed as OSHA officials has hurt the credibility of government safety programs and further increased immigrants’ mistrust of government. We must reach out to these workers with health and safety information and we must strictly enforce a policy that prohibits sting operations that undermine OSHA credibility.
These worker issues are of paramount importance. Worker organizations, like unions, should be consulted and integrated into the effort. The UFCW stands ready to work with all interested stakeholders, including worker representatives, government agencies, and poultry companies.
November 14, 2005
Justices Agree to End the Workplace Rip-off
(Washington, DC) – Meatpacking, poultry and food processing workers finally have the backing and protection of the highest court in the land. Today, the United States Supreme Court affirmed the position long held by workers and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) – that employers must pay workers for time spent obtaining required safety equipment and reporting to their work location in the plant. The UFCW has advocated for decades that all required time is paid time.
For far too long, employers have cheated workers out of their full paycheck by refusing to pay them for the time it takes to pick up their required safety equipment such as chain mail gloves, hair nets, aprons and heavy boots. Meat industry giants like Tyson Foods, which owns IBP, have long insisted that workers paid time does not include as much as thirty to forty minutes per day spent collecting and putting on their gear and walking to their station on the production line.
Today, the Supreme Court justices unanimously agreed that workers deserve to be paid for that time. In reality, the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court had to rule on such a case speaks volumes about the greed and arrogance of employers in this country. It wasn’t enough to cheat workers out of their wages, the meat packing industry fought for the right to continue its rip-off all the way to the highest court.
The time has finally come for the hundreds of thousands of workers to receive their rightfully due wages when they report for duty in America’s food industry workplaces. Today’s court ruling is a tremendous victory for workers.
October 21, 2005
Strikers Hospitalized from Brutal Attacks
(Washington, DC) – As the temperature begins to cool here in the United States, a bitter and brutal cold has crept into the air surrounding the Tyson beef plant in Brooks, Alberta, Canada. More than 2,300 workers, many of them workers who are refugees from the Sudan, have been forced onto the streets and onto picket lines in a battle to preserve a decent standard of living. Tyson is leaving workers and their families out in the cold, again.
Workers at the Brooks plant stood up for a voice with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401 in August, 2004, eager for basic workplace protections such as an end to harassment, improved safety training, and better handling of biological hazards. More than 600 Sudanese immigrant workers were lured to Alberta with the promise of a good job and bright future. Tyson’s disregard for the basic safety needs of its workforce, immigrant and native, is reprehensible. Picket lines went up on October 12, 2005 after Tyson Foods threw out a proposal by a mediator appointed by the Alberta government to facilitate a first-contract agreement.
“UFCW members and Tyson workers in the United States stand firmly in support of our Canadian brothers and sisters as they stand up against Tyson’s greed,” said Joseph T. Hansen, UFCW International President. “We are committing every resource available to support our striking workers in Alberta on the frontlines against Tyson’s inexcusable greed.”
Provincial law enforcement officers stood by yesterday as replacement workers and management verbally and physically assaulted Sudanese workers with racially-motivated jeers and anti-immigrant insults. Several strikers were reportedly beaten with metal pipes, left injured in a ditch before being transported to the hospital.
“Tyson recruits workers from all over the world to bring them to work in their North American operations in a race to the bottom. Exploitation of a vulnerable immigrant workforce is part of their business plan. Now, it is particularly galling to see that the Tyson is allowing racially-motivated violence to take place on the picket line,” continued Hansen.
Tyson’s behavior in Alberta follows a pattern it sets in the United States – doing everything in its power to lower wages, cut benefits and reduce workplace standards for employees, particularly immigrant workers. In 2003, Tyson forced long-time meat processing workers in Jefferson, Wisconsin onto picket lines for nearly one year in order to lower wage and benefit levels for unionized workers in the United States. In this instance, Tyson’s message to the black immigrant workforce is clear: we brought you to this continent so that we can pay you less than native workers.
Tyson Foods is the Wal-Mart of the meat industry – dominating 27 percent of all beef, pork and chicken sales in the U.S. But size doesn’t give it the excuse to drag workers’ wages, health care benefits, and workplace standards to the even lower levels. The company carries very little debt and share prices have increased by 25% in the last year. Tyson has no financial need to demand sub-standard wage and benefit levels for workers in the U.S. or Canada.
The Brooks facility handles 40% of all beef slaughter in Canada. It operates under the name “Lakeside Packers.” Tyson has owned the plant for ten years.
UFCW members in the U.S. will be marching and leafletting in support of the strikers at the Millions More Movement on the National Mall in Washington, DC tomorrow.
October 20, 2005
UFCW Canada Press Release — The national director of the union on strike at a Tyson Food’s plant (Lakeside Packers) in Brooks, Alberta, Canada has stepped up his call for Prime Minister Paul Martin to facilitate a resolution “”before someone gets killed””, in the wake of three picketers and the union’s local president all being hospitalized after being attacked by Tyson company personnel.
|Click here to watch live video taken at the scene of the car accident.|
“”On Thursday three picketers ended up in hospital after they were viciously outnumbered and beaten by Lakeside managers,”” recounted Michael J. Fraser, the national director of UFCW Canada, “”and now they attempt to murder the President of the local union by ramming his car off the road.””
“”Premier Klein has said he’s not prepared to intervene. Then let Prime Minister Martin show leadership and use his power to facilitate a resolution. Tyson’s Lakeside Packers is a federally licensed and inspected plant. Tyson’s tactics have created an explosive situation. This is not the Wild West or the Old South. Assault and attempted murder are not acceptable bargaining tactics.””
It is the second time this week Fraser has called on the Prime Minister to get involved. Fraser made his latest comments while enroute to Alberta where yesterday Doug O’Halloran, the president of UFCW Local 401, was chased and forced off the road by cars driven by Lakeside Packers management personnel.
O’Halloran is now listed in guarded condition.
Arkansas-based Tyson Foods, the owners of Lakeside Packers, forced the strike after rejecting a settlement drafted by a mediator appointed by the Alberta government to facilitate a first-contract agreement.
September 14, 2005
Morristown, Tenn. – The 700 workers at the Koch Foods poultry processing plant now have a voice on the job with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1995. Workers voted overwhelmingly in favor of union representation during the vote on Friday, September 9, 2005 with 465 yes votes, 18 no, 12 voided ballots and 10 challenged by the Labor Board.
This is victory for the Koch Foods workers, but also the entire Morristown community. Workers reached out and gathered support from area churches, congregations and other community groups. The company agreed to remain neutral throughout the union campaign – which allowed for workers to vote in an environment free from intimidation or harassment.
“Workers, the community and the company are now working together to make a better workplace and a better life for the 700 families at Koch Foods. When workers came together to demand better wages and working conditions, management responded positively. This process has been a positive situation for everyone,” said Bill McDonough, UFCW Executive Vice President and Director of Organizing.
The union drive at Koch Foods was the subject of a New York Times article on September 6, 2005 highlighting a resurgence of union activity among poultry plants in the South. Poultry workers at the Gold Kist plant in Russellville, Alabama continue to organize.
UFCW is the nation’s leading poultry worker organization with more than 60,000 of its 1.4 million members working in the poultry industry.
September 12, 2005
Washington – The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and its members continue to help Katrina victims and their families.
UFCW members affected are calling the UFCW Katrina Relief Fund hot line at (866) 820-6141.
So far, UFCW raised or received pledges nearing $250,000 for hurricane victims from generous workers and organizations. UFCW itself has contributed $100,000, and one of its constituency groups – United Latinos of UFCW – contributed another $50,000. Union representatives and volunteers are helping connect workers with their families. They are helping provide groceries and shelter for victims in several states. They are also helping workers to find other types of assistance, as well as to help people relocate and find new jobs.
UFCW has many affected members. In Louisiana alone, almost half of UFCW’s 5,300 members lived in the most affected areas. UFCW volunteers are helping everybody, but concentrating on finding and helping these 2,500 members.
The UFCW members who experienced the worse impact from the hurricane are those employed by Domino Sugar Co. in Chalmette, LA, where hundreds were trapped inside the factory by flood waters for nearly one week, and at least 40 have lost their homes and possessions. Domino Sugar Company has agreed to continue paying wages and benefits for these workers while the plant is shut down.
Other UFCW members affected by the hurricane include those working at poultry processor Sanderson Farms, at an oil refinery, at barber shops, and at a Sara Lee plant in Mississippi.
“People are being grateful for the help and some are saying that no one was helping them until UFCW’s yellow t-shirts showed up,” said UFCW Region 5 International Vice President Alvin Vincent. “For the most part, victims are also upset at the federal government for not fixing the levees outside New Orleans and for lack of food.”
UFCW International President Joe Hansen oversaw the creation of the relief fund last Saturday, Sept. 3, and urged workers to contribute to it. “Unlike a strike situation, where hardship develops over time, many of our members barely escaped Katrina’s destruction with nothing but the clothes on their backs.”
UFCW Local 455 purchased a truckload full of groceries from Associated Grocers Warehouse and with the help of several UFCW leaders and members, distributed the food to Sanderson Farms’ workers, who had been affected by the storm.
UFCW Region 5’s Al Vincent: “”The Hotline traffic is starting to pick up and the word of mouth member-to-member system, while slow, has helped us find some families in great need.”” He added, “Also, we have started to go to the major staging areas (Houston, Dallas) to see if we can post ‘UFCW Member Relief’ information throughout the arenas.”
“”Most victims are staying in homes in groups ranging from five to 24 people,” said Vincent. “In one case, there is a family of 10 staying at a campground in Minden, Louisiana. In all cases, reunited families are reluctant to be slip apart.”
In addition to the UFCW, other unions of the recently formed Change to Win Coalition have implemented Katrina-victim relief programs of their own and in collaboration with other unions.
July 24, 2005
Seven hundred and fifty workers at two Koch’s Foods poultry processing units in Morristown, Tennessee have filed a petition for a union election to be conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Workers at the Morristown plant approached the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 1995, seeking a voice on the job. Workers have been organizing at the plant for the past month. A majority of workers at the two units have signed UFCW union authorization cards.
“UFCW currently represents Koch’s Foods workers at two plants in Mississippi,” said George J. Saleeby, International Vice President and Director of UFCW Region 3. “Koch’s workers in the Morton and Forest plants are able to bargain collectively for wages, benefits, and working conditions. The workers in Morristown came to us because they also want a voice on the job.””
The U.S. government requires workers and the union of their choice to have at least 30% of their co-workers sign union authorization cards in order to file for a NLRB election. During an election, eligible workers at the location vote for or against the petitioning union. When a union is voted in by 50% plus one person, both the company and union sit down to negotiate a mutually beneficial contract for the workers and to improve workplace conditions.
May 18, 2005
Omaha, Neb-Community leaders and activists from Omaha are urging Nebraska Beef to live up to community standards and guarantee its workers their democratic right to vote for union representation without coercion or intimidation.
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 271, Omaha Together One Community (OTOC), members of the clergy, and elected officials are calling on Nebraska Beef, one of the largest beef-kill operations in the country, to drop its systematic and illegal anti-worker tactics and allow workers to participate in an upcoming union election without fears of reprisals. The Community leaders are calling for Nebraska beef to allow fair-minded, community monitors to bear witness in the run up to the voting and to ensure that the company lets the election take place in an environment free from coercion and intimidation.
On April 6, 2005, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ordered a new election at Nebraska Beef after citing the company for violating workers’ rights in an August 2001 election, after UFCW had filed charges on behalf of the workers. The NLRB upheld a hearing officer’s findings that the company used a broad range of intimidation tactics to deny workers a voice on the job in the 2001 election, including:
Illegal interrogation of employees concerning their union sympathies;
Illegal threats of job and benefit loss if workers selected a union as their collective bargaining representative; and
Illegal threats to change working conditions if they selected the union.
Deliberately providing an inaccurate eligible vote list, which the hearing officer ruled was a “”bad faith effort to impede the union’s access to voters.
The mostly Latino workforce has endured continued mistreatment at the hands of company managers. Jose Guardado a worker at Nebraska Beef for more than seven years and union supporter said, “”I was fired for standing up for a voice at work. They made up some excuses, but I know it was because of my union activism. I would expect this to happen in El Salvador, but I was hoping workers had grater liberties in America.”” Guardado was an observer in the 2001 election and rendered testimony at the NLRB hearings. “”Only if the company allows the community to be witness of how they treat the workers we can hope for things to be different,”” Jose added.
UFCW Local 271 successfully fought on behalf of seven workers who had been fired in retaliation for standing up to management and demanding safer working conditions. In addition, the company has had to pay back wages in settlement charges filed by UFCW Local 271 for illegally firing three employees who protested unsafe working conditions.
April 22, 2005
Omaha, Nebraska — Respondiendo a cargos que la Union de Trabajadores Comerciales y de Alimentos (UFCW) presentó a nombre de trabajadores, la Junta Nacional de Relaciones del Trabajo (NLRB) ordenó una nueva elección en la planta Nebraska Beef en Omaha, Neb., al sancionar a la compañía por violar los derechos de sus trabajadores en las elecciones de Agosto del 2001. La NLRB confirmo las conclusiones y recomendaciones de un oficial de audiencias de desechar las elecciones del 2001, en las cuales la compañía uso una amplia gama de tácticas de intimidación para negar a los trabajadores una voz en el trabajo.
Nebraska Beef, una de las plantas empacadoras de carne de res en el país, fue sancionada por violaciones que incluyen:
Interrogación ilegal de empleados acerca de sus simpatías hacia la Union;
Amenazas ilegales de perdida de empleos o beneficios si los trabajadores seleccionaban una Union como su representante para negociaciones colectivas; y
Amenazas ilegales de cambiar las condiciones de trabajo si seleccionaban una Union.
La compañía emplea aproximadamente 1,100 trabajadores, en su mayoría latinos, que matan y procesan 2,400 reses al día y generan cerca de $2.7 millones en ganancias al día.
La opinión de la NLRB es solo la última de una serie de acciones de agencias federales contra Nebraska Beef por violaciones a la ley en años recientes. El Departamento de Agricultura de los Estados Unidos retiro de la planta temporalmente al personal del Servicio de Inspección y Seguridad de Alimentos en el 2003 debido a las violaciones a la seguridad de los alimentos por parte de la compañía. El Servicio de Inmigración y Naturalización de los Estados Unidos allanó la planta en 2000 y detuvo a más de 200 trabajadores indocumentados y encausó a varios administradores de nivel medio.
“”Esta decisión es una victoria para los trabajadores de Nebraska Beef, quienes tuvieron que esperar cuatro años antes de que se hiciera justicia por la conducta escandalosamente ilegal de la compañía,”” declaró Donna MacDonald, presidenta del Local 271 en Omaha. “”Esperamos que la comunidad entera de testimonio de lo que ocurre en la planta desde ahora y hasta que se lleve acabo la elección, y que se haga responsable a Nebraska Beef de respetar los valores de la comunidad.””
La UFCW Local 271 representa aproximadamente 1,000 trabajadores empacadores de carne en Omaha. La Union Internacional UFCW representa aproximadamente 250,000 miembros en la industria de empacadoras de carne y procesamiento de alimentos.
April 22, 2005
Omaha, Nebraska-The National Labor Relations Board ordered a new election at Nebraska Beef in Omaha, Neb., after citing the company for violating workers’ rights in an August 2001 election, after the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) had filed charges on behalf of the workers. The Board ordered the election to take place on May 26. The NLRB upheld a hearing officer’s findings and recommendation to set aside the 2001 election where the company used a broad range of intimidation tactics to deny workers a voice on the job. The workers had tried to organize with the UFCW Local Union 271.
Nebraska Beef, one of the country’s largest meatpacking plants, was cited for violations that included:
Illegal interrogation of employees concerning their union sympathies;
Illegal threats of job losses or loss of benefits if workers selected a union as their collective bargaining representative; and
Illegal threats to change working conditions if they selected the union.
The company employs approximately 1,100 mostly Latino workers who slaughter and process 2,400 cattle a day at the plant.
The NLRB ruling is just the latest in a series of actions, over the last few years, directed at Nebraska Beef by federal agencies for breaking the law. The U.S. Department of Agriculture temporarily removed federal Food Safety and Inspection Service personnel from the plant in 2003 due to the company’s food safety violations. The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service raided the plant in 2000, detaining more than 200 undocumented workers and indicted several mid-level company managers.
“”This ruling represents a victory for the workers at Nebraska Beef, who have had to wait four years before justice was done about the outrageously illegal behavior of the company,”” said Donna McDonald president of Local 271 in Omaha. “”We hope the entire community will bear witness to what goes on in the plant from now until the election is held, and hold Nebraska Beef accountable if they don’t live up to community values.””
UFCW Local 271 represents nearly 1,000 meatpacking workers in Omaha. The UFCW International Union represents approximately 250,000 members in the meatpacking and food processing industry.