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Vol. 71/No. 27      July 9, 2007

PM Beef workers in Minnesota fight for contract
(front page)
WORTHINGTON, Minnesota, June 23—On a visit to this small southwestern Minnesota city, Militant reporters interviewed several workers who were involved in a successful fight to win union representation at the nearby PM Beef Holdings slaughterhouse.

On May 25 workers at that plant voted 231-193 to be represented by United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1161.

Most of the workers at the plant, which is near the town of Windom, live in Worthington. This city was the site of an immigration raid on December 12. Agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided the large Swift hog slaughterhouse there and arrested 239 workers. The same day ICE rounded up nearly 1,300 workers at six Swift plants nationwide.

Reporters for the Militant interviewed four union supporters. They discussed the background to the victory and what lies ahead in the fight for a contract. The workers asked that their last names not be printed for fear of retaliation by the bosses.

Most of the 500 workers at PM Beef are immigrants from Latin America. Among the abuses workers cite are the line speed, expensive medical insurance, and being cheated on wages.

Workers said the company carried out an intensive antiunion campaign leading up to the vote. The bosses exploited the immigration raid in Worthington to try to intimidate the workers.

“Some supervisors were saying that there would be an immigration raid if there is a union since the company would be more public,” said Graciela, a PM Beef worker. “Some supervisors said the company would have to close. The company held meetings every day with groups of 12 workers at a time and showed us videos.”

“In order to counter the company, union supporters talked informally at breaks and in the bathrooms,” explained Maria, another worker. “There were also formal meetings every few weeks of union supporters, called by UFCW union organizers. These meetings became larger and established momentum for the union. Some supervisors who are Guatemalan even gave up their supervisory positions and became workers for a while. The company really worked on them and won them back.”

“The union also brought up a staff organizer from Iowa. He visited all of the workers’ homes and talked to them,” she said.

“Three times in the last year workers have stopped working,” said Daniel, who is employed in the kill department, describing the resistance by workers in the plant. “One time the chuck boners stopped working because the line was too fast. Two different times the six workers at the start of the line stopped work to protest the line speed. Each time this happened the company tried to continue production by slowing the line to very slow.”

“A year ago eight or so chuck boners went together to the office to complain about the line speed,” he added.

Many of the workers at PM Beef Holdings are from Guatemala. Maria said the company worked hard to deceive and intimidate the Guatemalan workers.

“Maybe 80 percent of the workers are Guatemalan,” said Imelda, a Guatemalan immigrant who is a knife worker at the company. “Even though the first language for many Guatemalan workers is a Mayan Indian language, all of them could speak a lot of Spanish. They were able to participate in all the discussions of the workers. Like other workers, most of them supported the union.”

Now the challenge is fighting for a new contract, workers said.

“Since the victory in the election little has changed in the plant for the workers,” said Graciela. “The speed of the line accelerates less rapidly when it starts. For a few weeks the supervisors did not yell at us. Now they have started again.”

“In a few days the workers will elect a negotiating committee for a contract,” Maria said. “We will also be stating our priorities for a new contract. There are new indications the company might be willing to negotiate.”

“Now we will really have to hold together,” added Daniel. “We will have to be strong in order to get the changes we need.”

Rebecca Williamson contributed to this article.
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Oregon: 500 protest ‘la migra’ raid  
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