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Workers Say “Yes!”: Victory for Smithfield Workers

By Angela Denio

Tar Heel, N.C. – After over a decade of struggle the workers of the Smithfield Packing Plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina voted Dec. 11 to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW). In a vote of 2041 to 1879 the workers put an end to the 14 years they have waited for union representation in the workplace. Ronnie Ann Simmons, a veteran of 13 years at the plant said of the vote, “We are thrilled. This moment has been a long time coming. We stuck together, and now we have a say on the job.”

The Smithfield Packing Plant in the small town of Tar Heel, North Carolina opened in 1992. It is the largest pork-processing facility in the world, with roughly 5500 workers who slaughter and cut up over 30,000 hogs a day.

In 1994 when the workers at the plant first held a union election they were met with violence, harassment and threats of all kinds, including racist attempts to divide the workers of the plant against each other based on nationality. Smithfield Packing Company’s attempts at illegal union busting did not stop there. The level of intimidation continued through the next election attempt in 1997. Union materials were destroyed, leading organizers fired and any support for the union was met with coercion and intimidation from the bosses. Nine years later the United States Court of Appeals ruled that Smithfield Packing Company repeatedly broke the law in its attempts to stop the union. The threats from this company have remained over these long years and the demands of the workers have remained unrepresented or unheard.

The nationwide Justice for Smithfield Campaign worked hard to raise awareness of the workers struggle in the broader community. The campaign fought to build solidarity between trade unionists, student activists, community organizers and the workers of the Tar Heel plant. Under such immense mass pressure, Smithfield finally broke down to sit at the table with the workers in early this December. From this meeting came an agreement, which declared that the workers would be allowed a “fair election process” and in turn the workers and their allies would end the public campaign against Smithfield Packing.

“When workers have a fair process, they choose a voice on the job,” said UFCW director of organizing Pat O’Neill. “This is a great victory for the Tar Heel workers. I know they are looking forward to sitting down at the bargaining table with Smithfield to negotiate a contract.”

The workers of Smithfield and their many supporters in the Justice for Smithfield Campaign have shown the strength a movement for unionization can have. Their determination and resolve over 14 years of struggle has culminated today in a brilliant victory.

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