State News

Smithfield workers say 'yes' to hog-plant union

Posted December 11, 2008
Updated December 12, 2008

— Workers at the world's largest hog processing plant, Smithfield Packing Co. in Bladen County, have voted for a union to represent them at one of the state's largest industrial sites, totals released Thursday night showed.

The tally was 2,041 to 1,879 in favor of the United Food and Commercial Workers.

About 4,600 of Smithfield's 5,000 employees in the tiny town of Tar Heel were eligible to vote over two days of balloting overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.

“From the beginning, our goal was to give employees the opportunity to vote on this issue in a fair, secret-ballot election. This has now been accomplished, and we will abide by the results of the election. We respect the decision and look forward to working with the union to negotiate a fair labor contract for our employees,” said Tim Schellpeper, president of Smithfield Packing.

The UFCW has 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.

“We have a union now. Amen. Hallelujah,” said Letia Spivey, a Smithfield worker. “I feel like tonight’s vote went wonderful. Everything is swell. We are very happy people at Smithfield."

Ronnie Ann Simmons, a veteran of 13 years at the plant said, "We are thrilled. This moment has been a long time coming. We stuck together, and now we have a say on the job."

The election comes as part of a settlement to a racketeering lawsuit the company filed against the union last year.

“We will be entering negotiations with another union as we have done at many of our other facilities. And we will continue to operate, moving forward as a company, hoping to continue to provide good jobs and high-quality products,” said Dennis Pittman, Smithfield Packing spokesman.

Pittman's held a news conference about the union vote.

Workers with whom WRAL News spoke who did not support the union said they were concerned about bringing in a union during tough economic times. They said they were worried the union's demands could put the company out of business.

Employees at eight of Smithfield’s 13 plants are unionized.

The Tar Heel plant processes up to 32,000 live hogs a day into plate-ready pork.


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  • heatherbl Dec 12, 2008

    Ummm. Both sides (the union and management) agree to those contracts. Perhaps management should have negotiated better contracts that they could afford?

    What an amazing double-standard we have in this country. We may act appalled at big corporate salaries and golden parachutes, but none of us blame them for the downfall of an industry. Did those workers not earn those wages and retirement packages? Why is it acceptable to expect blue collar workers to take the hit? Should all banking employees also be blamed for the downfall of their industry? I mean, surely they were overpaid, right? To not blame the management for the industry's failure to implement quality standards and new design that would make people actually WANT to buy their products and to instead blame American workers and their union is incredible. Absolutely incredible. What a double standard and how irresponsible to have separate standards for white collar vs blue collar workers. Shame on you.

  • whatusay Dec 12, 2008

    heatherbl...sorry but you are very wrong. The union contracts by the big 3 are directly responsible for the downfall of these companies. $80/hr vs $43. No one can survive with the benefits the UAW has. And, under the current contracts layed off employees draw 90% of their pay for up to 3 years (while on lay-off). You can not pay thousands who are not working, and give them health care and pensions.

  • heatherbl Dec 12, 2008

    I am blown away by some of the statements I have read about this. All you anti-union people, do you like the 40 hour work week? Enjoy paid holidays? Enjoy overtime pay? How about worker's compensation? If you like these things, thank a union because they are the ones who fought for these rights for all workers. Are there bad unions? Sure there are. Are all unions bad? Absolutely not. As has been pointed out - other Smithfield plants are union, so why not the Tarheel plant?

    And, don't blame the UAW for the problems in the auto industry. That's ridiculous. They are protecting their members' wages (that's what the members get in return for their dues). For the banking bailout, did congress call for a reduction in banker wages? Or, for the auto bailout, have they called for a reduction in management wages? What a double standard.

  • whatusay Dec 12, 2008

    New hires will be paid at a reduced wage. Will probably take 3 years before they reach 100%. Some of the employees will now have to take a pay cut by joining the union. Everyone will be treated the same, no incentive pay for working hard. And the overtime? Lay out 3 times and you are history. Have to have a doctors written excuse to come back to work. Those employees who do not want to join the union, sorry. But with the union it is one for all and all for one. NC might be a right to work state but when the union is in, everyone is in.

  • piperchuck Dec 12, 2008

    "I VOW to NEVER EAT NC PORK AGAIN! That is my vote."

    So, what are you going to do, choose Mexican or Chinese pork instead? That's certainly supporting your neighbors. LOL!!!

  • dcatz Dec 12, 2008


    Perhaps you should try reading the constitution at some point before you claim that the right to form a union is "constitutionally protected".

    Smithfield Packing is private property owned by a private citizen. You have no right to free speech or free assembly so long as you are on their property. The first amendment only says the government can't prevent you from assembling and having free expression; it doesn't require owners of private property to do the sme.

  • SaveEnergyMan Dec 12, 2008

    OK, some definitions. Right to work state - means that a union cannot make someone join and pays dues, as a condition of employment and management cannot prohibit someone from joining the union - State Statue Chapter 95, section 78.

    Federal law does prohibit an employer from threatening closure if the plant unionizes, but the plant can close for many other reasons. Proving it is difficult, however. If the result of a union is higher wages, then the plant can close because of labor costs.

  • whatusay Dec 12, 2008

    It will take many, many years before the union gets so expensive that Smithfield can no longer operate. There will be lots of problems ahead though. All new hires will be have a probation period before the company has to hire them, this will weed out lots of the accident prone, lazy people. Those that are hired will get the week-end, worse jobs. The union will have to force the company to hire new employees. Will probably see many lay-off's, especially as pork sales slow.

  • DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT Dec 12, 2008

    Now that the employees have a union, doesn't that mean EVERY employee has to have a union fee deducted from their paycheck? So the employees are starting off in the hole. The union will have to get their salaries and benefits raised to make up the difference. It will be a while before the employees feel the unions power in their paycheck. And by that time, this plant will either close or move south of the border.

  • superman Dec 12, 2008

    Times are rough now and even Obama says they will get worse before they get better. At least they have a job but they have now voted to lose their job. The plant will close and move-- any town or city would welcome a new business that employs their citizens-- well most anyway--Butner is an exception! They should move the plant-- they could probably get a financial incentive to move to another area.