Unions fight militant meatpackers' decert

Workers at Dakota Premium Foods, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW) Local 789, have called a rally outside the plant for September 19. The local called the action after the company denied union representatives entry to the plant, their latest attack in a three-month-long decertification campaign.

Local 789 representative Rafael Espinosa said the reason for the rally is “to get together and show the company that the workers are not alone and that this is going to be a fight.”

Dakota workers are reaching out for solidarity from the labor movement and the community. They’ve invited other unions in the Twin Cities to join the September 19 rally. Like the unionists at Dakota, some of these locals are trying to win contracts, including truck drivers organized by the Teamsters and striking members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees at the University of Minnesota.

On September 7 union representatives were not allowed to enter the Dakota plant. This violated a basic right in the contract that enables union representatives to check on conditions. The day before, union supporters in the plant had passed out a new issue of the Workers’ Voice newsletter announcing that Local 789 representatives would be coming to discuss safety and other problems workers are facing. The week before two workers were accidentally stabbed on the job due to unsafe conditions, including line speed, the newsletter said.

“We filed a grievance and also a charge with the NLRB [National Labor Relations Board] because we were denied access to the plant to talk to members about their grievances,” said Espinosa. “We won this in the contract.”

Workers at Dakota Premium fought for two years and won union representation in 2002. In June of this year their first contract expired. Shortly before the contract expiration, pro-company workers began circulating a petition against the union, part of a company campaign to decertify the local. The petition has been handed over to the NLRB, which will decide whether or not a decertification election will be held. The UFCW has contested the petition, pointing to company involvement in its circulation.

“It’s one more way the company is attacking the union at the plant,” said Julian Santana, a worker in the kill department. “When I talked to a coworker who had asked why they weren’t in the plant and I told him that the company didn’t allow them to enter, he was not surprised.”

Rebecca Williamson is a trimmer at Dakota Premium Foods and a member of UFCW Local 789.


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