The action was the latest step in these workers effort to win representation by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW). According to officials, 400 of the 1,000 workers in the plant have signed union cards. Most workers are immigrants from Guatemala, elsewhere in Central America, and Mexico.
The Rally for Respect, at which several local ministers spoke, was preceded by a march from the Grace United Methodist Church. This company has grown from the labor of the workers, said Father Gumercindo Lopez, who once worked in the plant.
Cathy Mason chaired the rally on behalf of the UFCW. Workers had filed complaints with the union on a number of issues, she said. Many dealt with the continued increase in line speed, which has resulted in many repetitive motion injuries. Workers have been subjected to verbal abuse and sexual harassment, she said. They have also complained about the bosses refusal to organize replacements for those who need to go to the restroom.
The company keeps u0s divided, said Leon Edwards, a Black worker who loads trucks. The Spanish people work hard. They see this as their chance. But they are learning how this company treats people.
Celia Gomez, who has worked in the plant for a year, arrived for work as the rally was ending and learned about the organizing drive. The union is needed, she said. You dont have any rights in this place. When you come to work, you dont know when you will get off or what job you will do.
From start to finish, the timing and location of the event were a tug-of-war with the plant bosses. The rally had barely begun when management and plant security came out and told the union supporters they could not rally on the sidewalk adjacent to the plant but would have to gather in the street. The organizers of the event complied after the police were called in to enforce the company demand.
The rally was scheduled to take place between the morning and afternoon shifts in order to reach the largest number of workers. As the shift change drew closer management representatives demanded to know how long it would last. Plant security guards told several workers in the parking lot that the action had nothing to do with them and they should go in to work. The rally ended before the shift change after management agreed to accept a letter demanding a response from the company to the workers complaints.
In May 2002 the workers in the plant won an important legal victory requiring the company to pay some $10 million in additional wages retroactively for the time it takes to put on and remove work clothing and protective gear each day. The settlement was divided among 25,000 former and current Perdue workers.
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