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Smithfield, union battle over prospect for organizing election

Smithfield, union battle over prospect for organizing election

Smithfield Packing Co. said it has reached an agreement with federal officials that clears the way for a new union election at the world's largest hog slaughterhouse _ an assertion rejected almost immediately by the union.
"This is simply a public relations ploy to shift attention," Renee Bowser, assistant general counsel for the United Food and Commercial Worker's International union, said Friday. "There's still outstanding unfair labor practice charges filed against this company."
The dispute was the latest between Smithfield and the union, which has tried to organize the plant in tiny Tar Heel, about 85 miles southeast of Raleigh, for more than a decade.
Howard Neidig, a National Labor Relations Board official based in Winston-Salem, said that while the board had finalized an agreement with Smithfield regarding issues related to previous union elections, no new organizing election will be scheduled because another case involving a subcontractor is still pending against Smithfield.
The NLRB is a federal agency that, among other things, conducts elections to determine whether employees want union representation.
"Our position at the moment is that we are not going to conduct another election until that case is resolved," Neidig said.
Smithfield officials said the two cases are not related.
"It is the company's understanding that the election could have taken place anytime over the last year. We've been trying to get the union to call for an election," Smithfield spokesman Dennis Pittman said. "It is our understanding that the second case does not have to do with past elections."
The agreement Smithfield reached with the NLRB stems from a federal court order regarding union elections held at the plant in 1993 and 1997. Employees voted against organizing in those elections, although a federal appeals court later found the company illegally worked to defeat those efforts.
The deal calls for Smithfield Packing, a subsidiary of Smithfield, Va.-based Smithfield Foods Inc., to pay $1.1 million in back wages, plus interest, to employees who were terminated by the company.
"Even though we disagree with the findings, we have complied with the court's decision and are ready to move forward. I hope the union will work with us to schedule a secret ballot election as soon as possible," Joe Luter IV, Smithfield's president and chief operating officer, said in a statement. "We believe our employees should have the right to vote on whether they want to be represented by a union."
About 5,000 employees process up to 32,000 hogs daily at the plant in Tar Heel. On Wednesday, 21 workers were arrested inside the plant by federal immigration agents, and hundreds of plant employees failed to show up the next day for work.
Company officials blamed the union for the slowdown, saying local organizers told a plant cleanup crew that immigration officials were waiting inside. The union said workers told each other about the arrests.
In November, the union quickly backed about 1,000 workers who staged a walkout after Smithfield fired about 50 people in a crackdown on undocumented workers. The union also helped spark a small walkout on Martin Luther King Jr. Day after plant officials declined to designate it as a paid holiday.


Updated : 2021-04-10 20:18 GMT+08:00