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Some Smithfield Workers Stay Out for King Holiday

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TAR HEEL — The United Food and Commercial Workers union had warned of a large walk-out at the Smithfield Packing Co. plant because of the Martin Luther King holiday, but most workers showed up for business as usual on Monday.

A handful of workers skipped work to attend a King memorial service in Fayetteville, however.

They sang the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and spoke forcefully inside the First Baptist Church.

"We're united in the cause of justice," one speaker shouted to those gathered. "Give courage to those who are workers at Smithfield."
Union representatives wore yellow T-shirts saying "Smithfield Justice" in English on the front and in Spanish on the back.
Johnnie Davis was among those who took an unpaid day off from Smithfield.

"I told 'em on the job I was gonna be off regardless, you understand?" Davis said.

"This is a day to honor, and this is a holiday, and at Smithfield, they don't want to honor that day," Eugene Rogers said.

At the Smithfield plant, managers say that about 4 percent of their 5,500 workers are absent on an average day. Monday, absenteeism was about 6 percent, they said.

Workers had presented a petition last week asking for the day off. Smithfield said there was not enough time.

"We said, ‘Look folks, this is mighty short notice for us to change the process here.'  We book our business out monthly ahead of time," Smithfield spokesman Dennis Pittman said.

A few years ago, Pittman said, workers voted overwhelmingly not to swap their Easter day off for a King holiday.

"What I think, it's just a shame and disgrace that they use this birth date of a good leader to advance the cause of the union," Pittman said.

Smithfield officials say they cannot give their workers more than eight paid holidays.

They say those who didn't show up for work Monday will not be penalized, but the time will be treated as an unpaid day off.


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