Justice for Workers at Smithfield Packing Company
Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? says the Lord.
But your eyes and heart are only on your dishonest gain, for shedding innocent blood, and for practicing oppression and violence. – Jeremiah 22: 15-17
The Smithfield Packing Company in Tar Heel, North Carolina, is the world's largest hog processing plant. Each day, some 5,500 workers slaughter and cut up over 30,000 hogs. Meatpacking is dirty and dangerous work. But in the Tar Heel plant, Smithfield has made an already difficult work situation much worse. A high risk of injury and mistreatment of injured workers, inflamed racial tensions, and illegal anti-union activities make some workers say: "they're not killing hogs, they're killing people." In 1994 and 1997, workers attempted to vote on whether to form a union in order to address these issues. But both times, the company engaged in widespread and egregious illegal activity to invalidate the vote. The workers need support in their struggle for workplace justice.
Learn more about conditions at the Smithfield Packing Company.
Read "The Pork is Packed with Oppression" [pdf] | [html with citations]
• Write to Smithfield's chairman. Send a note urging the chairman of Smithfield Foods, Inc., to treat workers with fairness and dignity, and allow them to freely choose whether to form a union. Write to Mr. Joseph Luter, III, Chairman, Smithfield Foods, Inc., 200 Commerce St., Smithfield, VA 23430.Postcards addressed to Mr. Luter with a pre-printed message are available from JWM (firstname.lastname@example.org; 866-822-8224, ext 3700). We invite you to host an educational event at your church and provide these postcards for people to sign.
• Ask your congregation to sign the United Food and Commercial Workers' union Resolution for Justice at Smithfield .
• Locate meat from Smithfield Packing Company. Learn how to identify meat from Tar Heel and tell the UFCW where the meat is sold. Remember Smithfield Foods, Inc., is a huge company with many plants, union and non-union. Some plants treat workers with fairness and dignity. Our concern is with the Smithfield Packing Company in Tar Heel, NC, only.
• Hold a "Smithfield-free" Thanksgiving or Christmas party. Throw a party for the holidays and serve no pork from the Smithfield Packing Company's Tar Heel, NC, plant. Ask guests to send notes, available from JWM, to Smithfield's chairman asking for justice for Tar Heel workers. Download a party pack from UFCW.
• Read Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, a book about the fast food industry including a chapter about where our meat comes from. It's a riveting book that everyone needs to read, but it doesn't have a very happy ending. This is the book on which the movie of the same name is based.
• Visit the Smithfield plant and talk with workers. Participate in a worker justice delegation. Come on an "immersion" trip to learn about worker justice, tour the Smithfield plant, and meet with workers and union organizers. Read reflections from young adults who visited the Smithfield plant and with workers and the union. Contact Edith Rasell (email@example.com, 1-866-822-8224, ext. 3709) for more information.
• Work with the UCC's Ministers for Racial, Social and Economic Justice for justice at Smithfield. The UCC's Ministers for Racial, Social and Economic Justice are organizing around the country to support the Smithfield workers in Tar Heel. Contact MRSEJ President Rev. Graylan Hagler (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Smithfield Foods, Inc., is an $11 billion, multinational company. It is the world's largest pork processor, slaughtering, cutting up, and shipping some 27 million hogs a year. It also is the largest hog producer raising 14 million hogs a year in the U.S. Smithfield is also the fifth-largest beef processor in the U.S. slaughtering 2 million cattle annually. It has subsidies, joint ventures, or major investments in France, Poland, Romania, the U.K., Brazil, Mexico, Spain, and China. Smithfield Foods employs 52,500 people worldwide, and 42,200 in the U.S. of whom 20,500 are covered by collective bargaining agreements. The company sells food under many brands, including Smithfield, John Morrell & Co., Farmland Foods, Curly's, Gwaltney, Cumberland Gap, North Side Foods, Patrick Cudahy, RHM Foods, Stefano Foods, and others.
In the 1960s, 1970s, and into the early 1980s, meat packing workers were commonly union members receiving good pay and benefits, similar to those in the auto and steel industries.1 But after concerted anti-union efforts by many firms in the meat industry, union membership fell from 46% in 1980 to just 21% in less than ten years.2 The decline in unionization was accompanied by efforts to reduce production costs overall. Wages fell, turnover rates soared to 100% per year in some plants today,3 and the use of immigrant workers rose dramatically. Now, 38% of production and sanitation workers in the meat and poultry industry are foreign-born non-citizens.4 In many plants, wages, benefits, and working conditions have deteriorated. Injury rates have climbed. Human Rights Watch now calls meatpacking "the most dangerous factory job in America."5 In the past 25 years, the industry also became dominated by a few very large firms. Just four companies slaughter, process, and pack 70% of the pork produced in the U.S.6
1. Human Rights Watch, Blood, Sweat, and Fear: Workers' Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants, New York: HRW, 2005, p. 12.
2. U.S. Government Accountability Office, "Safety in the Meat and Poultry Industry, while Improving, Could Be Further Strengthened (GAO-05-96), January 2005, p.7.
3. Ibid., p. 7.
4. Ibid., p. 16.
5. HRW, op. cit., p. 14.
6. GAO, op. cit., p. 7.
• The United Food and Commercial Workers union has compiled much good information about Smithfield.
• Human Rights Watch has a number of publications about workers in the meat industry.