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Workers at Smithfield Foods Tar Heel Plant Ratify First-Ever Union Collective Agreement with the UFCW

Posted to the IUF website 09-Jul-2009

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Historic Victory for the Labour Movement

A majority of the 5,000 Smithfield Foods Tar Heel workers ratified their first-ever union collective agreement after 5 months of negotiations. In December 2008, Tar Heel workers voted in favour of union representation with IUF affiliate UFCW and chose to join UFCW Local 1208. The agreement represents a major victory for the labour movement and comes at the end of a bitter 17-year long struggle for human rights at the world's largest pork facility in North Carolina, USA, processing over 32,000 hogs a day. The struggle for Tar Heel worker rights featured sustained international support from IUF affiliates with membership in Smithfield subsidiaries in Europe.


Smithfield Tar Heel workers members of UFCW Local 1208 ratify their first-ever union collective agreement

The agreement covers the hourly production and maintenance workers at the Tar Heel facility and entered into force on July 1, 2009. It raises workers’ wages and brings up benefits and working conditions to the union standards that cover more than 10,000 other Smithfield workers, and more than 240,000 employed in the meat packing and food processing industry covered by a UFCW collective agreement.

Main provisions in the UFCW agreement include:

Wage increases of $1.50/hour over the next four years.

*Continued company-provided affordable family health care coverage

*Improved paid sick leave and vacation benefits

*Retirement security through protection of the existing pension plan

*Continued joint worker/management safety committee, including company funded safety training for workers

*Guaranteed weekly hours that protect full-time, family supporting jobs in the community

*A grievance procedure to resolve workplace issues

*Three working days of paid funeral leave following the death of immediate family members



'This agreement will completely transform our workplace', said Orlando Williams. 'This is the biggest four-year wage increase Smithfield workers have ever had and it will make a real difference for our families and in this community. We could never have got that increase without a chance to bargain with the company. We will finally have a sense of security on the job because through our union we can make sure we have a safe place to work, and that everyone’s treated fairly'.

UFCW members who work at Smithfield's other locations all over the USA were paying close attention to the negotiations in Tar Heel. 'I know the difference having a union contract makes', said Jim Olson, shop steward at UFCW Local 304A and a 35-year veteran of Smithfield's John Morrell plant in Sioux Falls. 'The more meatpacking workers who join our union, the more power we have to raise wages and benefits in our own local unions, and for everybody who works in this industry. That’s what being in the UFCW is all about'.

The 17-year struggle for union recognition and a collective agreement at Smithfield is emblematic of the many difficulties US unions face in the struggle for human rights at the workplace - and why US labour gives high priority to labour law reform and passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would significantly facilitate the process by which unions obtain legal recognition and bargaining rights in the face of employer opposition.