Local News

Smithfield Union Workers Walk Out, Protest Labor Screening Process

Posted November 16, 2006 6:00 p.m. EST
Updated November 16, 2006 7:50 p.m. EST

— More than 300 workers, many of them Hispanic, walked out of a Smithfield Foods Inc. hog-slaughtering plant Thursday, protesting a labor screening process and what they described as management intimidation and abuse.

"There's a long train of abuses in that plant really going back more than a dozen years," Gene Bruskin, a United Food and Commercial Workers Union representative who serves as the Smithfield campaign director, told The Associated Press. "Recently, the activity in the plant has been increasing."

Bruskin said Smithfield officials have failed to address problems of sexual harassment, inappropriate firings and denial of workers' compensation claims.

Smithfield spokesman Dennis Pittman said the company was only complying with a request from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to gather the names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth and gender of workers at the plant. About 600 workers were found to have unverifiable information. The company fired about 75 people for providing false information, he said.

"This walkout -- which apparently was instigated by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union -- is totally unjustified," Pittman said. "If Smithfield were to do what the union is calling for, we would be breaking federal law by knowingly employing undocumented workers. The union should stop trying to pressure Smithfield to break the law."

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

Many of the workers who left their jobs during Thursday's morning shift could be heard chanting the word "justice" in Spanish. Bruskin said workers on later shifts planned to continue the walkouts.

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.

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