Local News

MLK Day celebrations hold special significance for church that backed union effort

Posted January 19, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

Map Marker  Find News Near Me

— A church in Fayetteville remembered the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday while celebrating a victory for thousands of factory workers.

Last month, workers at the Smithfield Foods Inc. hog-slaughtering plant in Tar Heel voted to unionize.

Church members remember plant union victory on MLK day Church remembers plant union victory on MLK day

The First Baptist Church congregation viewed the union's accomplishment as another journey toward change. The tally was 2,041 to 1,879 in favor of the United Food and Commercial Workers at the Bladen County plant.

From the banishment of slavery, to the civil rights movement and to the final sermon of King – it all holds special significance for church members.

"Forty years from the time that sermon was delivered, we elected the first black man as president of the United States,” Rev. Marvin Morgan, coordinator for the Justice at Smithfield campaign, said.

On MLK Day 2007, nobody in the church knew Barack Obama would even run for president. The church was focused on helping workers from the Smithfield Foods get a paid King holiday. By 2008, they had it.

Workers were also clamoring to form a union at the plant. By this year, they had that too. That movement, Justice at Smithfield, launched in December 2006 and ended two years later.

"And on Dec. 31, I worked myself out of a job,” Morgan told about 200 people Monday at the First Baptist Church. “By the way, it’s one of the most joyful experiences I’ve ever had.”

The union vote came on Dec. 10, but it took boycotts and protests.

"I will acknowledge Smithfield ham tastes pretty good, but we did without it for months and months because of the working conditions at the Smithfield plant. This year, I'm gonna eat some ham,” Morgan said.

The UFCW had been trying since the plant opened 16 years ago to win the right to represent the Tar Heel workers. This time, the selling points of improved working conditions and better wages convinced enough workers to vote in favor of the union.

Smithfield, Va.-based Smithfield Foods is the world's largest pork-processor and hog-producer. The Tar Heel facility is considered the largest pork-processing plant in the world.

The plant, about 25 miles south of Fayetteville, employs 5,000 workers and slaughters up to 34,000 hogs a day.


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • streetfightinman Jan 21, 2009

    When hotdogs are 10 dollars a pack the whole company wiil
    be out of buisness,unions are a terrible idea, because
    you do your job and some lazy coworkers job also and, you both get paid the same.When they go out of buisness blame the union.

  • jgriffith3792 Jan 20, 2009

    These same folks will be whining in a few years when the plant closes and moves. Rediculous. Feel sorry for the 1800 people that knew better. They will be paying for this along with the other fools.

  • ObamaMustGo aka NCcarguy Jan 20, 2009

    Well....a UNION at a processing plant will almost certainly cause this company to move it's operations somewhere further south.....so they probably just agreed to be unemployed. Congrats!

  • veyor Jan 20, 2009

    It seems that some people choose incorrectly every time. Pretty soon the pastor will be praying that the strike will end.

  • woodrowboyd2 Jan 20, 2009

    these folks havent learned from other companys that are controled by unions
    but school is close by
    all churchs have become political places to force their belifes on other even to the point they bring in speakers to promote thei agenda

  • affirmativediversity Jan 19, 2009

    I truly didn't believe you'd have the spine to post my comment. At least exercise your right to freedom of the press and research organized labor's opposition to civil rights in the 1960's

    WRAL...moral cowards!!!