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Vol. 72/No. 4      January 28, 2008

Minnesota packinghouse workers
fight union decertification
SOUTH ST. PAUL, Minnesota, January 15—Several unionists at the Dakota Premium Foods meatpacking plant here used their breaks and lunch yesterday to distribute and discuss the new issue of the Workers’ Voice. This action was part of a campaign by Local 789 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) to defeat a company-backed effort to decertify the union at the plant. An election on whether to remain in the UFCW is set for January 25.

The Workers’ Voice is a newsletter produced by workers at Dakota Premium. It was launched during the successful fight in 2000-2002 to organize the union there. Since then, union supporters have put out an issue when there are particular safety problems, unjust disciplinary actions such as firings, or company lies that need to be countered.

A vote to remain organized in the union will send “a strong message” to the company that “we will organize ourselves to win a union contract with better wages, working conditions and dignity on the job,” an article in the new issue said.

“Don’t be fooled by the company campaign against the union,” the newsletter added. “The bosses are united in defense of their interests, which is to get the most they can out of us so they can add to their riches. We have different interests. We want safe jobs with decent pay and we want to be treated with nothing less than dignity. As a union we can stand up to the company and go on to win a good contract and a better future for ourselves and our families.”

The Workers’ Voice included a sample ballot with an “X” marking “yes” for the union. It published a special announcement inviting unionists and union supporters to join Local 789 in an expanded leafleting of the plant on the next two Thursdays.

When the newsletter was distributed at the lockers, in the hallways, and in the lunch room, workers began discussing it. A few showed their opposition to the union by throwing the newsletter in the trash. Some did not express an opinion. A number said they will vote for the union.

A couple of workers sought out those distributing the newsletter to say they would be at a January 16 meeting where the next steps in the campaign to defend the union will be discussed. Some who defended the union said the line speed was too fast. A few said they were frustrated and they thought that conditions hadn’t changed since the union was voted in.

Samuel Farley, a union steward in the cut department, reported that some workers had approached him asking what they should do to support the union, including some who previously did not show interest. Some workers, he said, “see what the company is doing with the workday expanded, the speed of the line, the injuries. Some of them have quit, but many see that having the union is the only alternative.”

The day after the Workers’ Voice was distributed, four union officials and staff visited the plant. One was Miguel Gutierrez, who had worked at Dakota Premium for many years and been a shop steward there until a few months ago.

Todd Chase from the UFCW international addressed the workers during their lunch break. He raised several issues, including safety on the job and the need for workers to have more access to their representatives during work hours. The majority of workers applauded his remarks.

Rebecca Williamson, one of the pro-union workers, said, “Many have told me they think conditions are so bad that the union has to stay but that there need to be more changes, like more presence of union reps on the floor, raises, and slowing down the line speed.

“We don’t know how the vote will turn out,” she said. “But it’s encouraging that some of the new workers have helped in the recent meetings where we put out the Workers’ Voice. One helped distribute the Workers’ Voice today.”

Carlos Samaniego is a member of UFCW Local 789 and works at Dakota Premium Foods.
Related articles:
On the Picket Line
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