State News

Smithfield workers say 'yes' to hog-plant union

Posted December 11, 2008 4:01 a.m. EST
Updated December 12, 2008 7:36 a.m. EST

— 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.