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   Vol. 70/No. 49           December 25, 2006  
N. Carolina meat packers fight
company attempts to fire dozens
TAR HEEL, North Carolina—Workers at the giant Smithfield Foods meatpacking plant here report that bosses have continued to issue “no-match letters,” threatening to fire those who don’t prove legal working status within 60 days. The company says Social Security numbers submitted by 500 employees do not match federal Social Security records.

On November 16-17 about 1,000 workers at the plant walked off the job to protest firings of dozens of immigrant workers given “no-match” warnings.

A Mexican-born packing worker who asked that her name not be printed said in an interview that she had received one of these letters. After receiving it, she told her boss she would no longer accept being forced to do double work, a situation facing many in the plant because of reduced crew sizes.

“I told my supervisor, ‘You have to get someone else to do the other job,’” she said. “'I’ll do one or the other, but not both anymore.’”

Israel Ramirez, 30, who works on the kill floor, said it’s common for workers to receive burns from vats of boiling water used to sterilize knives. He said U.S.-born supervisors sometimes blame Spanish-speaking workers, shouting “Why did you do that?” Ramirez, who speaks some English, says he has tried to intervene so that injured workers are sent to the clinic rather than being forced immediately back to their jobs.

Billy Corley, 40, also a kill floor worker, flips over hogs as they come down the line. He said the carcasses, weighing up to 450 pounds, pass by every few seconds, “but sometimes two come out at the same time. I was 156 pounds when I started here—now I’m down to 130!”

The Smithfield facility, the largest hog-slaughter plant in the world, employs some 5,000 workers and slaughters 32,000 hogs daily. Workers here have been involved in efforts over the past decade to organize into the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

Many workers interviewed said that the company tries to foster divisions within the workforce of U.S.-born Blacks and Latin American immigrants, seeking to make Latino workers think that Black workers receive better treatment and vice versa.

“We need more communication,” said Corley, who is Black. He noted that he and many other U.S.-born workers hadn’t walked out because they didn't understand the issues involved at the time. “We need to be better informed,” he said, adding that the job action was “an opportunity” for all workers at Smithfield. “The whole plant needed to walk off!” he said.
Related articles:
Immigration agents raid packing plants
‘We are not criminals!’ say workers at Swift factories; ‘No deportations!’
Protest gov't raids of packing plants  
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