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Company, Activists Dispute Claims In Union Vote Controversy

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FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — There are harsh accusations at the world's largest hog operation. Workers at Smithfield's Tar Heel, N.C., plant want to vote on a union, and even though the company agreed, the vote hasn't happened yet.

Activists and employees picketed Friday afternoon in Fayetteville, demanding that the Smithfield Packing Company allow workers vote on a union at the plant. It has 5,000 employees, and kills more than 30,000 animals daily.

The protesters said Smithfield keeps standing in the way of the vote, even using scare tactics to discourage union support. They also accused the business of spying on and threatening employees who want a union.

Former employee turned activist, Edward Morrison, said, "From the beginning, it was something that you just didn't want to talk about and they keep that fear in the atmosphere."

A federal appeals court has agreed. It issued an opinion in May, saying Smithfield "threatened" workers, "interrogated" employees, and even "videotaped" and "spied" on them.

The court ordered the company to let workers vote on a union again. But that hasn't happened yet.

Corporate executives denied the allegations and insisted they welcome a vote. They also said they're not slowing down the process, and said they believe national activists are picketing because they want to make a statement.

"I think if they feel like they can make things hard for us, other companies wouldn't want to go through the same thing," said Smithfield spokesman Dennis Pittman. "But, quite frankly, we haven't seen any real effect from what they've done so far."

The company had two votes in the 1990s. Workers voted against unionizing at that time. However, some workers allege employees were intimidated into voting "no."


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