News and Updates
Packing and Processing
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.
March 10, 2005
Joseph T. Hansen, International President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) was named to a 14-member Citizens’ Health Care Working Group. Hansen is the only representative from organized labor working with the esteemed group of health care providers, economists, health care advocates and other leaders.
The fourteen panelists, named by the Comptroller General of the United States David M. Walker, were assembled from more than 500 applicants and are charged with the duty of holding a national dialogue on issues relating to health care services, delivery and cost.
“I am deeply honored to serve in this vital endeavor to address the growing health care crisis and I look forward to working with my fellow panelists,” said Hansen. “The nation’s health care tab is already the highest in the world, and I am committed to exploring solutions that will reduce costs while improving care for the greatest number of people.”
The working group was created by Congress and will hold hearings and community meetings across the country on health coverage and cost issues, and, ultimately, issue a “Health Report to the American People.”
As the leader of the 1.4 million-member UFCW, Hansen represents America’s neighborhood union. UFCW members put food on the table for America’s families, working in neighborhood supermarkets, as well as in meatpacking, food processing and other industries.
With more than 40 years of experience negotiating contracts covering wages, health care benefits, pensions and other workplace benefits, Hansen is acutely aware of the nation’s health care crisis. He understands how rising health care costs are forcing a downward pressure on workers’ living standards. He also knows first-hand how skyrocketing costs are encouraging some employers to scale back and eliminate employee health care plans in order to gain competitive advantages in their industries.
“The health care crisis is a national problem that requires a national solution,” said Hansen. “I have great confidence that our group can lay the foundation for bringing America together to confront this challenge.”
February 24, 2005
Wal-Mart used children for hazardous jobs in its U.S. stores according to a U.S. Labor Department investigation as reported in the New York Times on February 12, 2005. Wal-Mart is being sued for sexual harassment in Florida by the federal government as reported in the Bradenton Herald on February 18, 2005. Wal-Mart was cited in Alabama for having the most employees on taxpayer-funded Medicaid health program as reported in the Associated Press on February 22, 2005. Wal-Mart is the target of a Georgia legislative initiative on companies with large number of employees receiving taxpayer-funded health care after it was revealed the retail giant ranked number one for employees on the government health program as reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on February 23, 2005.
In a ten-day period, Wal-Mart compiled a virtually unmatched public record of abusive, illegal and irresponsible conduct involving women, children and taxpayers. These most recent reports come on top of Wal-Mart already facing the largest sex discrimination lawsuit in history, court convictions for forcing employees to work without pay, and government complaints for the illegal firing and intimidation of workers for exercising workplace rights. In Canada, Wal-Mart is closing a store and taking away the livelihoods of almost 200 workers rather than comply with the law providing a fair and impartial process to reach a contract with workers.
So what does Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott do? He delivers a speech attacking the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW).
In his speech delivered in Los Angeles yesterday, Scott glibly ignored the company’s very public record of shameful conduct; blamed the UFCW and other critics (the “guppies” according an earlier Scott pronouncement) for his problems; and, created an alternative reality where low wages, unaffordable benefits, the massive export of U.S. jobs to overseas sweatshops, the suppression of worker rights and taxpayer subsidies for the giant retailer have somehow made the world a better place.
The Scott speech continues a public relations offensive launched several weeks ago to prop up the company’s sagging image, pump up stagnate stock prices, and sidestep holiday season reports that competitors from Sears to Best Buy offered lower prices. The speech contains the same willful distortions and Orwellian double-talk as the company’s ad campaign. Repeating a lie does not make it true.
Scott brags, as did the ads, about the number of full-time employees– except full time in Wal-Mart speak is about 30 hours a week, not 40 hours as in the rest of reality. Scott proudly proclaims that Wal-Mart’s average wages are about twice the minimum wage. He ignores that Wal-Mart uses its enormous political clout– the largest political giver in 2004– to keep the minimum wage in real terms at its lowest level in decades. Even at the supposed Wal-Mart average wage, a family with a Wal-Mart income is still left scraping the poverty line. Scott cites Wal-Mart health insurance as a positive, but fails to mention that 700,000 Wal-Mart associates do not have the company’s health insurance, and that those who do, pay more on average than employees of other major companies.
In instance after instance, Scott contorts the facts to serve his own purposes. He cites the lack of opposition to his company in communities across California, and declares opposition to Wal-Mart is limited to urbanized areas– except the overwhelming majority of Californians live in those urbanized areas. He talks about company tax payments, but doesn’t mention the tax costs the retailer imposes on states and communities with its low wages and lack of affordable health benefits.
Despite Scott’s protestations, Wal-Mart is not just a simple retailer. Wal-Mart is the largest single economic force in history. It is the largest private employer in the country, and the largest corporation in the world. Walton family members comprise five of the ten richest people in the world. About one percent of the wealth of just one of the Walton richest five would provide affordable health insurance for all Wal-Mart workers in the U.S. Wal-Mart is about high profits, not low prices.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union has 1.4 million members working in neighborhood supermarkets, retail stores, meat packing and food processing plants. UFCW retail members work for major retailers such as Kroger, Safeway and Albertsons.