UFCW seeks beach-head in Right To Work state

The Rev. John Mendez’s views of labor conditions at Smithfield Packing Co. in Tar Heel, N.C. (“Smithfield Foods fails employees,” Oct. 29) appear to be heavily tainted by union propaganda churned out by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and their fake grass-roots organization operating under the name “Smithfield Justice.”

The stakes are high. If the union can organize 5,200 Tar Heel employees at the largest pork-processing plant in the world, it will give them a beach-head in a “Right to Work” state, not to mention millions of dollars in new-found dues.

Apparently, union bosses failed to tell the Rev. Mendez that on Feb. 6, the president and CEO of Smithfield Packing Co. called on the union to “Let the workers vote - by secret ballot - whether they want a union. Let them decide whether the charges your union is making are true.” A letter was sent to UFCW President Joe Hansen stating Smithfield “would bear the cost of a neutral outside observer - such as a church group or the Carter Center in Atlanta - to oversee the election. This will ensure a fair vote.”

Talks ended between Smithfield and the UFCW because the union wants a “card-check.” It wants to be able to approach workers at home or in the parking lot and ask them to sign an authorization card to form a union. If more than 50 percent sign, the union wins. Congress recently voted against a proposed card-check law because of potential abuses.

Tar Heel employees twice rejected unionization, in 1994 and 1997. UFCW activists shout company intimidation but keep silent about a 1994 secret-ballot election held at Smithfield’s Kinston plant, where the Service Employees International Union won. Yet the plant was operated by the same Smithfield management team without any reports like the kind the Rev. Mendez alleges. In fact, more than half of Smithfield Packing employees are affiliated with unions through secret ballot - including the UFCW at other nationwide plants.

The American Meat Institute has recognized Smithfield every year for the past decade for its outstanding employee-safety programs and low injury rates. Smithfield consistently ranks among the industry leaders in workplace safety. The Tar Heel plant is the largest of its kind in the world, but its injury rate is among the lowest in the industry (6.49 injuries for every 100 workers since 2003). As far as line speeds are concerned, many union contracts at other U.S. meat-processing plants are equal to or faster than Smithfield’s.

Smithfield has delivered on its promises to create opportunities in Tar Heel and Bladen County. Local economic planners and elected officials worked hard to provide incentives for the company to locate there in 1992. Average wages are $12.40 an hour, contributing nearly $150 million in payroll. Employees work a seven-hour shift and get two 30-minute breaks. Employees and their families have access to affordable health insurance and an 11,000-square-foot Smithfield Family Medical Center and Pharmacy built at a cost of $11 million. There is also a generous college-tuition reimbursement program up to $6,000 per year.

Ugly inferences of racial inequalities are mean-spirited. More than 60 percent of Smithfield Packing management is black, Hispanic and American Indian. And the Smithfield-Luter Foundation has established $100,000 scholarship programs at a number of historically black colleges and universities, such as Fayetteville State, for their children and grandchildren.

Smithfield workers are perfectly capable of making their own decisions. They should be allowed to think for themselves and express their will through a secret-ballot election, a democratic process conducted by the Federal National Labor Relations Board and monitored by a neutral third party. The Rev. Mendez has apparently been sent by the UFCW on a fool’s errand to convince Smithfield workers that he and the union know more about their needs than they do.


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