Organized crime tool used for organized labor

Smithfield Foods has elevated the fight against its biggest union into new territory, filing a 100-page lawsuit accusing the group of far-reaching interference with the company's business.

The lawsuit is filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which historically has been used to prosecute organized crime. The suit comes a day after Smithfield called off negotiations with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which is trying to organize the world's largest slaughterhouse, in Tar Heel, N.C.

Documents released by Smithfield on Tuesday revealed that the warring sides recently made progress in negotiating a way to have a free election acceptable to both parties. But after the union rejected offers of votes overseen by a third party with equal access to workers, the company decided that it was done negotiating.

The union cited Smithfield's history of meddling in past organizing elections as its reason for rejecting the offer. This year, Smithfield reached a settlement with the National Labor Relations Board and agreed to pay $1.1 million in back wages, plus interest, to employees fired by the company during union elections in 1993 and 1997.

The recent suit accuses the union of waging a two-year campaign of extortion against the company in an effort to force it to accept the union. It says the union has hurt Smithfield through accusations made to Wall Street analysts and the media.

The legal action carefully lays out how the company views the UFCW and other labor organizations as acting in concert as an organized conspiracy to pressure the company. It even shows how this was done at supermarkets and Wal-Mart as proof.

Smithfield, which filed the suit in the Eastern District Court of Virginia, is asking for compensation for damages to its property and business.

Gene Bruskin oversees the union's efforts to organize the Smithfield plant and is named as a defendant in the suit. He declined to address the suit's specific allegations because the union hadn't read it carefully yet. But he said the timing of the action proved that Smithfield never had any intention of working with the union.

The union lost two elections in 1994 and 1997 in North Carolina, where the company was found to have intimidated union supporters. The UFCW also represents Smithfield workers at more than half its plants nationwide.


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