Saturday, November 18, 2006

This is astoundingly good news

Smithfield workers have won concessions from their employer--the world's largest slaughter facility in North Carolina. Last week, hundreds of non-union employees walked off the job, upset that their bosses were using bad social security numbers as a pretext to fire union sympathizers.

This weekend, Smithfield agreed to hire those people back. Solidarity beats apathy every time, man.

Thanks to the determined two day walkout by hundreds of workers at Smithfield's Tar Heel, NC plant, backed by thousands of supporters across the country, Smithfield agreed to a negotiated settlement with the workers to halt the wholesale firing of immigrant workers.

The Smithfield Justice internet network generated thousands of calls to the company from national religious, civil rights and immigrant rights organizations demanding that the workers' rights be respected. Smithfield Justice allies notified the company about their support for the workers, including the National Baptist Convention, the Progressive Baptist Convention, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the North Carolina NAACP, National Council of Churches and Rainbow Push. Eric Schlosser, whose new movie Fast Food Nation opens this weekend, issued a public statement condemning the company for its victimization of the workers.

The catalyst for the protest was a disagreement between the workers and the company about the Smithfield's implementation of immigration issues. In Smithfield operations where workers are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), contract language provides for a systematic and constructive process for workers and the employer to resolve issues such as immigration and work status. Workers at the Smithfield Tar Heel plant have been struggling for the protection of a union contract for over a decade.

Following the walk out, the company agreed to negotiate around the workers' issues through the Catholic Church and their attorneys. The company acknowledged that they had misinterpreted the law and agreed to make appropriate adjustments to comply.

The company, for the first time, also agreed to meet with an elected group of workers' leaders to further negotiate about plant issues on Tuesday. Specifically, the two parties agreed to:

  • Smithfield has agreed to increase the time allowed for employees to respond to "no match" letters from the Social Security Administration.
  • Employees who have been laid off for failure to resolve Social Security issues may return to work while they sort out these issues.
  • Smithfield's Human Resources Department will designate a staff member to help process "no match" Social Security issues and respond to questions.
  • Smithfield has agreed that if mistakes have been made, they will be addressed.
  • No disciplinary actions of any kind will be taken against those employees who participated in the walkout.
  • Tar Heel plant manager Larry Johnson will meet again with a group of Smithfield employees on Tuesday, November 21 at 2:00 pm.

I am so proud of my union brothers and sisters in Smithfield. La lucha sigue!

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