News and Updates
May 30, 2007
(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 1, 2007
Washington DC—A new report entitled Discounting Rights released by Human Rights Watch outlines the systematic denial of Wal-Mart workers’ right to organize. It confirms what Wal-Mart workers have been saying for years. Workers seeking a voice on the job with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union have faced:
Wal-Mart works aggressively to create a climate of fear and intimidation where workers fear they’ll be fired, disciplined, or lose benefits if they try to form a union.
Wal-Mart routinely surveills and spies on union organizers and pro-union employees and selectively enforces company policies against pro-union workers.
Wal-Mart engages in “unit packing” and other tactics to prevent organizing efforts. When workers have successfully organized, Wal-Mart has refused to bargain, or has shut down stores and units where workers have organized.
Wal-Mart is a company that refuses to remedy its mistreatment of workers. Not only does the company have a history of methodically violating workers’ right to join a union, the Wal-Mart record on worker rights is a laundry list of abuse. Wal-Mart has racked up a striking number of wage and hour violations. The company faces the largest gender discrimination case in the history of this country. Wal-Mart has decreased health care coverage to employees while touting its commitment to offering affordable care. Evidence suggests that Wal-Mart may have even adopted a strategy of eliminating long time workers and discouraging overweight or otherwise unhealthy workers from applying—both as measures to reduce payroll and health care costs.
In recent months, Wal-Mart spin doctors have been working to change the company’s public posture. Unfortunately, being a responsible employer means improving actual corporate practices. That begins with not interfering with employees’ internationally recognized right to join a union.
February 6, 2007
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
(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.
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.
July 29, 2005
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), its local unions and its officers are committed to rebuilding worker power. We have undertaken the process to restructure and revitalize our union to meet the needs of our current and future members. For our union to succeed on behalf of our members, we must be part of a revitalized and dynamic labor movement that connects with a new generation of workers struggling in the 21st century’s global economy.
We are building on a tradition and record of success. The U.S. labor movement has brought unprecedented prosperity, broad-based political democracy, human rights and legal protections to workers and their families. The labor movement changed the world, and transformed the living standards of working families. Both the AFL and the CIO played critical roles in the success of the labor movement in bringing economic security to workers. The merged AFL-CIO was a product of that success.
Now, the world has changed, and workers’ rights and living standards are under attack. Tradition and past success are not sufficient to meet the new challenges. We, as a movement, now must change to meet the challenges confronting workers. We have an historic opportunity and obligation to organize and lead a new movement for the 21st century.
The UFCW, along with the other unions of the Change to Win Coalition, has a vision and strategy for the future. The Change Coalition prepared and presented to the AFL-CIO a comprehensive reform proposal for change. At the core of our proposal for change is the redirection of resources to rebuild worker power through strategic organizing to increase the number of unionized workers within an industry or occupation. Engaged and organized union workers in an industry constitute the foundation of worker power.
The dynamics of the new economy demand industry-wide organizing and coordinated bargaining to improve living standards, ensure affordable health care and renew respect for work and workers. Solidarity means workers in an industry standing together in their union, and supporting all other workers in their industry.
We believe in worker solidarity, and in organizing to build worker power through solidarity. On this core issue— redirecting resources to organize industry-wide for worker power— there is a fundamental difference between the Change Coalition and the AFL-CIO. We believe international and local unions are best positioned to succeed in organizing.
The UFCW and the Change Coalition unions are rapidly moving forward to develop a national organizing, bargaining and political program based on our vision and strategy for the future.
We believe workers will organize, if there is an opportunity and a strategy for them to win. Workers cannot wait for a change in the political or corporate climate to organize. In fact, the current hostile political and corporate climate is the result of a failure to organize. Organizing workers changes everything.
We believe in coordinated, strategic bargaining that mobilizes the strength of all union members in an industry around common contract goals. Workers bargaining in isolation from one another dilutes their power and divides their strength.
We believe that we must have a strong and vibrant political program connected to the needs, concerns and goals of workers, irrespective of political parties and labels. We must ensure that we are the voice of workers to politicians and elected officials– and, not the voice of politicians or any political party to workers. Politicians will find that as we grow our labor movement, we will also grow our political power.
The UFCW, in order to pursue the most effective course of action for its members and all workers in its core industries, is terminating its affiliation with the AFL-CIO effective immediately.
While our affiliation ends, our commitment to work with the AFL-CIO and unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO on issues and programs where we share common goals remains unchanged. I believe our movement is united in our basic principles and values, even if we pursue different strategies. The UFCW and its local unions will continue to fund and work with state and local federations in politics and lobbying, and for mutual support of worker struggles.
I ask you and other AFL-CIO unions to reject efforts to build barriers within our movement, and to work in cooperation with Change Coalition unions in the myriad areas where we share common goals. We can build our movement, and again change the world to bring prosperity and well-being to workers here and around the world.
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.
June 15, 2005
Statement of Joe Hansen, International President, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union
WASHINGTON — The following is a statement by Joe Hansen, International President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, at the ‘Change To Win’ Coalition meeting:
Yesterday, the International Executive Board of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) unanimously endorsed a reform proposal to restructure the AFL- CIO, and to revitalize the labor movement.
Today, we join with some of the largest and most dynamic unions in the labor movement in a coalition for change.
These actions reflect the UFCW’s commitment to build a 21st century labor movement that can bring hope, and a plan of action for a better life, to a new generation of workers. We recognize that today’s realities-a new global economy, unrestrained corporate power, hostile government-present a formidable challenge to our movement. But, we must always remember that from our greatest challenges come our greatest accomplishments.
Labor in the 20th century stood at its lowest point in the 1930s. But, at our lowest point, we also stood on the verge of our greatest growth, our greatest strength and our greatest impact on the economy and society. From the depths of economic depression in 1935, we rose, within 20 years, to our largest percentage of the workforce, and we created the working middle class.
Today’s workers face the steady erosion of their power in the workplace, in the economy and in the political process. Rising profits, increasing productivity and a growing economy have not brought rising wages, better benefits, or economic security. There is a power imbalance between workers and the giant corporations that dominate the world economy.
The UFCW and our coalition partners are committed to redressing this imbalance, and to rebuilding worker power.
The current AFL-CIO administration asserts that there is little difference between our reform agenda and their AFL-CIO Officers’ Proposal.
There are profound differences in our visions for the future for America’s workers. We believe in organizing, not simply for more members, but in organizing to build worker power. The foundation of worker power is in increasing the number of union workers in an industry or occupation. Our proposals specifically direct resources to organizing in a union’s core industries. Our proposal provides for a leadership structure that promotes diversity and full participation and gives authority to the affiliates representing the majority of members.
Rebuilding worker power will give workers the hope for a better future. Workers with hope will organize, they will stand up, they will act in solidarity at work, in the community and in the political process. The starting point for our new movement to rebuild worker power is here, and it starts with us. This is the beginning.
We are going forward to bring a platform for change to the AFL-CIO convention. We will engage all other unions in a dialogue for change. Our purpose is not to divide, but to unite unions in a dynamic new movement for today’s workers.
The unions you see here are the unions representing the emerging 21st century workforce — young people, women, minorities, new immigrants and older workers forced to extend their work lives. From hospitality to retail to services, and from health care to transportation to construction, our unions are fighting the battles, confronting the employers and organizing the workers that are the future in America.
Yesterday, the UFCW Board also authorized the executive officers to disaffiliate from the AFL-CIO. This action was not taken lightly. We are committed to a united, reformed labor movement. But, the status quo will not stand. We will not be chained to the past, our obligation is to the future of our members.
As I said, in the 1930s, we were at our lowest point, but also on the verge of our greatest accomplishments. When the CIO left the AFL in the 1930s, it did not set us back, it propelled the movement forward. The CIO was committed to organizing the workforce of the day — mass production workers — and it changed the labor movement.
I believe today we are taking the steps that will change the labor movement and change the future for workers.