Local 150 Celebrates UFCW Organizing Win At North Carolina Meatpacking Plant

December 19, 2008

UE Local 150 members in North Carolina are celebrating a major victory for labor in that state. On December 10 and 11, culminating a 16-year organizing struggle, workers at Smithfield Foods' giant meatpacking plant in Tar Heel voted 2,041 to 1,879 to be represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). The plant, largest of its kind in the U.S., slaughters 32,000 hogs a day.

The union had lost elections in 1994 and 1997. In 2006 a Federal Circuit Court of Appeals upheld numerous charges against Smithfield which had been raised by the union and prosecuted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The UFCW said the company had spied on workers and had some beaten up on voting day. The company had to pay $1.5 million to workers it had illegally fired.

In June 2006 the UFCW launched a Justice@Smithfield campaign to pressure the company to stop breaking the law and allow a “free and fair” election. With allies such as Jobs with Justice and religious groups, the union asked cities to boycott Smithfield products, leafleted supermarkets, and demonstrated at shareholder meetings. The union also backed a workers’ back-pay lawsuit over unpaid work time and a community group fighting pollution from giant hog farm waste lagoons in North Carolina.

UE Local 150 members was part of the Smithfield solidarity movement, says UE Local 150 President Angaza Laughinghouse. “We did actions at the Harris Teeter supermarket in Raleigh, along with community groups,” he said. “We’ve always stood shoulder to shoulder with the Smithfield workers. Their win is a victory for all workers in North Carolina and the U.S.”

But in October 2007 Smithfield retaliated against the UFCW and its supporters with a lawsuit that charged, incredibly, that the worker justice campaign violated the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

The union did not back down in the face of this intimidation, and in October the company finally budged and negotiated a settlement that set up the December NLRB election under rules meant to guarantee fairness and neutrality. Both sides agreed not to attack the other, and the company agreed to a schedule allowing the union access to workers inside the plant. The union agreed to take down its Justice@Smithfield website and to stop funding the environmental justice group. Community-initiated lawsuits against hog farm pollution, which are independent of the union, have continued.

In the absence of a campaign of high-pressure company intimidation, threats and slander of the union, workers were free to vote their real preference, and the union prevailed. “We won. We voted fairly,” shouted Marie Lumberton, a worker in the livestock section at Smithfield, after the votes were tallied. “This was one election that came out the way it was supposed to have come out.... We are able to speak now. We will be treated fairly. A lot of people have not been treated fairly.”

On December 12 in Durham, Local 150 participated in a victory celebration for the worker victories at Smithfield and at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago. The celebration was part of the Southern Human Rights Organizers Conference, which Local 150 co-hosted. “These are victories for all workers, and we’re very proud of the solidarity role we played,” says Laughinghouse. Local 150 had organized rallies and pickets in Charlotte, Wilson and Raleigh in support of the UE Local 1110 plant occupation in Chicago.  


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