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   Vol. 70/No. 47           December 11, 2006  
After walkout, meatpackers press fight against firings
(front page)
WASHINGTON, November 28—Following a November 16-17 walkout by 1,000 workers at the Smithfield pork processing plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, all those who engaged in the job action are back to work, having won a guarantee from the company that they would not be disciplined. Also back on the job are nearly 60 workers who had been fired for allegedly not having proper papers. It was the firings that sparked the walkout. The company said they would be given 60 days to resolve questions regarding their immigration status.

On November 21 a dozen meatpackers elected by their coworkers met with company representatives, a meeting that Smithfield bosses agreed to as part of ending the two-day walkout. The workers also asked Father Carlos Arce, a local Catholic priest, to attend the meeting after Smithfield refused to allow any United Food and Commercial Workers Union representatives to participate. The UFCW has an ongoing campaign to organize the Tar Heel plant.

Israel Ramírez, one of the workers who took part in the meeting, said in a November 27 phone interview that the company organized a dozen handpicked employees to attend it.

“We submitted 20 questions” said Ramírez, 30, a kill floor worker originally from Mexico. He said they demanded an explanation for the firings and “we also asked about the abusive treatment in the plant. The supervisors are always yelling. Sometimes they prevent workers from using the bathroom. There have been racist incidents. The speed of the line is too fast. And when someone gets injured, they never want to let them go to the clinic.”

Ramírez said many coworkers complain of pain in their arms and hands from the fast, repetitive work. The Tar Heel plant, the largest hog-slaughter facility in the world, with 5,000 workers, kills more than 30,000 hogs daily.

Emily Sanchez, 22, said in a phone interview that four coworkers on her cutting line do work that should be done by seven. “The supervisors complain about the quality of our work, but they are demanding too much. It’s too fast,” she said.

Sanchez was one of those who walked out. “I wanted to support my coworkers because what the company is doing isn’t fair,” she explained. Sanchez, born in Mexico, said the action showed that “we are united,” noting that the Latin American immigrants were joined by a few workers who are Black or Native American. “Some of them were also mad about other things that have been happening here,” she added.

Workers expressed dissatisfaction with the meeting. “First of all, they barely let us speak, and second, they did not give clear answers to our questions,” Ramírez said. At the meeting Smithfield representatives insisted that workers would have to show proper immigration papers or face dismissal. The company claims to have a list of more than 500 workers whose Social Security numbers on file do not match federal records. Ramírez said a discussion is now taking place in the plant about what to do in the case of future firings.
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On the Picket Line  
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