News and Updates
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.
May 17, 2005
Washington DC – WakeupWalmart.com, America’s campaign to change Wal-Mart, called on its 50,000 supporters to immediately contact and pressure Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich not to veto the “”Fair Share Healthcare”” legislation.
As adopted, by both the Maryland State Senate and the House of Delegates, the “”Fair Share Healthcare”” bill requires companies with more than 10,000 employees to live up to their responsibilities as profitable employers and pay their fair share for health care.
Contrary to some reports, the Maryland bill does not specifically target Wal-Mart.
There are 4 corporations in Maryland with more than 10,000 employees (Giant Foods, Northrup Grumman, Johns Hopkins, and Wal-Mart). Wal-Mart is simply the only company that fails to live up to its moral responsibility of providing its workers with adequate health care. The bill is designed to ensure large employers don’t use state public health assistance as a method of providing healthcare for their workers.
“”With over $10 billion in profits last year it is morally bankrupt that Wal-Mart fails to pay its fair share of health care costs,”” said Paul Blank, WakeUpWalmart.com’s campaign director. “”It is sad to see Governor Ehrlich say no to health care for families and children and yes to tax subsidies for multi-billion dollar corporations.””
The Fair Share Healthcare legislation in Maryland is part of growing effort by the UFCW, WakeUpWalmart, and numerous civic and community groups, who are determined to make corporations, like Wal-Mart, live up to their responsibilities. The goal of such legislation is to ensure that large companies do not shift their healthcare costs on to taxpayers at a time when our healthcare system is already in crisis.
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.
February 17, 2005
Food and Commercial Workers Union and Child Labor Coalition Present Proposal to Immediately Stop the Use of Children in Hazardous Jobs at Nation’s Largest Employer
Wal-Mart could stop illegal child labor in its stores through distinctive employee badges for underage workers that could readily identify them as being prohibited from hazardous assignments, according the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the Child Labor Coalition. Combined with unannounced Labor Department inspections, the use of children for hazardous jobs would come to a rapid halt.
The two organizations are sponsoring, at www.ufcw.org, an e-mail campaign directed at Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott and U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao asking them to abandon a sweetheart deal on child labor announced earlier this week, and to take meaningful action to end the abuse of young workers.
Key to the union/coalition proposal is the re-badging of underage workers. Both managers and young workers would always be aware that certain assignments are illegal. Compliance would require unannounced inspections to make sure that badges are properly issued, and that no manager is pressuring minors into illegal assignments.
Scott and Chao are being presented with a demand to amend a settlement agreement that required the Labor Department to give Wal-Mart an unprecedented 15 days notice before any inspection. Advanced notice clearly undermines compliance, and allows managers simply to re-assign underage workers before an inspection.
Hundreds of children are maimed and crippled in accidents, some losing arms and legs, every year involving balers and compactors commonly used in Wal-Mart and other retail stores to handle the disposal of boxes and similar materials. The law has long prohibited minors from operating this kind of machinery. A Labor Department investigation brought allegations that Wal-Mart was using illegal child labor to operate the hazardous equipment in several states. To settle the case, Wal-Mart paid $135,000 and the Labor Department agreed to advance notice of inspections.
The UFCW and Child Labor Coalition’s actions today are supported by leading worker advocates in the U.S. Congress, including Representative George Miller (D-Calif.) and Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). Their statements follow:
Statement of Representative George Miller (D-Calif.), Senior Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce
I congratulate UFCW and the Child Labor Coalition for proposing a workable, inexpensive and effective way to end the illegal use of child labor, and I would hope that both Wal-Mart and the Department of Labor will respond positively.
Statement of Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) on Wal-Mart’s Sweetheart Deal with Department of Labor on Child Labor Violations
The Department of Labor has shamefully abdicated its responsibility by acquiescing in Wal-Mart’s continuing violation of child labor laws and other worker protections. Even worse, the Department conspired with Wal-Mart to conceal this sweetheart deal from the public. The Department is there to enforce the law, not be muzzled by America’s largest employer.
February 11, 2005
Washington DC — The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) urges immediate action to correct dangerous line speeds in meatpacking and poultry plants where injury rates are three times that of other manufacturing sectors.
A report by the Government Accounting Office (GAO), ordered by Senator Edward Kennedy, shows what workers in the industries have been subjected to for years:
- Dangerous line speeds
- An absence of injury and illness monitoring by OSHA
- Intimidation that leads to under-reporting of injuries
- Department of Agriculture inspectors without adequate training for recognizing hazardous conditions
“Blood, Sweat, and Fear,” a Human Rights Watch report, finds that the industries’ largely immigrant workforce “contend with conditions, vulnerabilities and abuses, which violate human rights,” including:
- Life-ending injuries
- Lack of compensation for injuries
- Discrimination against immigrant workers
- Illegal company actions to suppress workers’ rights to form unions
The reports call for immediate action by both employers and federal and state governments to rectify these conditions. “The GAO and Human Rights Watch reports have put the spotlight on these industries,” said UFCW International President Joe Hansen. “These findings underscore the need for immediate concrete action to correct these long-standing problems to ensure the safety of workers who put dinner on the table for American families.”
February 11, 2005
(New Castle, Penn.) – Wal-Mart forced workers to wait four and a half years for an election in their Tire & Lube Express Department of the Wal-Mart Supercenter in New Castle, Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart’s high turnover rate pushed out the union supporters who began organizing with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 880 in June, 2000, because they felt Wal-Mart ignored their complaints about safety hazards.
Then, two days ago, Wal-Mart announced plans to shutter its store in Jonquiere, Quebec, rather than face the decision of the Quebec Labor Ministry that would have initiated a process to establish a fair and impartial wage and benefit settlement between Wal-Mart and its workers. Today under the appearance of opportunity, the workers failed to gain a voice on the job — because Wal-Mart had already silenced their voice.
“Wal-Mart struck the final blow against these New Castle workers by showing them and the whole world to what lengths it will go to deny their employees a voice on the job. It’s not surprising that the Tire & Lube Express workers would turn away from union representation after Wal-Mart’s actions in Canada,” said Joe Hansen, UFCW International President.
“Wal-Mart is the richest corporation in the world, yet cowers in fear of a unified workforce. It is reprehensible that this giant corporation would drag out a union election process for nearly five years, drive union supporters out and strike fear into the hearts of workers who simply asked for the opportunity to participate in a democratic process at work,” continued Hansen.
The UFCW has launched a campaign to mobilize workers and community members to send a strong message to hold Wal-Mart accountable for its anti-worker actions. To get involved with the UFCW campaign and to sign on to the electronic petition, visit www.ufcw.org
April 28, 2004
Today, we mourn for workers who needlessly lost their lives on the job this year. We also mourn for the loss of workplace protections and safety regulations killed by the anti-worker Bush Administration.
This is an administration that goes out of its way to hurt workers. President Bush’s first major legislative action upon taking office was to sign legislation repealing OSHA’s ergonomics standard. This important worker safeguard, issued in November 2000, was ten years in the making and would have prevented hundreds of thousands of workplace injuries a year.
Today we also honor the workers who have been killed and injured on the job and their families. Last week, a UFCW member—a young worker from Guatemala—was killed working in a poultry plant. Thousands of workers, particularly immigrant workers, risk serious and sometimes fatal injury at work in workplaces such as poultry and meatpacking plants. No worker should be forced to risk their life to put food on the table for America’s families.
The UFCW is encouraged by actions such as those by Senator Edward Kennedy who is working to strengthen worker safety by introducing a bill this week that will expand protections for workers under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Senator Kennedy’s bill includes a mandate that employers pay for safety gear they require workers to wear. The Bush Administration has so far refused to complete and issue this standard. It will also strengthen penalties against employers who kill or seriously injure workers by willfully violating OSHA standards.
The Bush Administration has joined with business supporters to roll back, block, or stall needed worker protections. This Worker’s Memorial Day, the UFCW reiterates its commitment to electing a President that will put worker need before corporate greed.
August 4, 2003
(Washington, DC)–America’s most dangerous industries will most likely stay that way if OSHA continues to stall. The low-wage, predominantly Hispanic immigrant, workforce in meatpacking and poultry plants suffer the highest injury rates in the nation. Forced by their employers to pay for their own safety gear, such as mesh gloves, boots and even ear plugs, workers end up wearing it beyond its useful life, putting them at risk for serious injury.
The labor movement, in conjunction with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, is calling for the Secretary of Labor to act on the rule that mandates employer payment for personal protective equipment. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW)– joined by eight additional labor organizations–today, filed a petition with the Secretary of Labor to demand action within 60 days. This standard has been stalled at the agency for three years.
“”Many workers in these industries rely on personal protective equipment as virtually their only measure of protection. Workers should not be required to bear the cost of this basic protection.”” said Jackie Nowell, Director, Occupational Safety and Health Office, UFCW.
Nowell points out that workers in meat and poultry industries, for example, wear metal mesh gloves, which cost as much as $65, to prevent knife cuts and rubber boots to prevent falling on slippery floors.
In 1999, members of the UFCW and other unions offered real world testimony that without a requirement for employer payment, equipment was often improperly selected, poorly maintained and used beyond its useful life, putting workers at risk of injury.
“”Low-wage workers are most acutely in need of the protection offered by the rule. In the higher wage industries, most employers routinely supply all required safety gear free of charge.”” said Nowell.
Despite the clear demonstrated need and support for this requirement, the rule was not finalized and has lain dormant for three years. The rule has repeatedly slipped off OSHA’s Regulatory Agenda, and most recently was listed as a long-term action with the notation “”Next Action Undetermined.””
“”It is shocking and irresponsible that the Department can move so fast to cut overtime pay for workers through regulations, but won’t move a simple job safety regulation that has been waiting for years,”” said Patricia Scarcelli, International Vice President and Director of the Legislative and Political Affairs Department. “”This simple rule can help to improve the day-to-day lives of thousands of immigrant workers. And it is sitting there waiting for Secretary Chao to give the word.””