Friday, November 17, 2006

INB 11/17/06: Smithfield Workers Strike Over Firings

Immigration News Briefs
Vol. 9, No. 39 - November 17, 2006

1. NC: Workers Strike Over Firings
2. Florida Construction Raid

Immigration News Briefs is a supplement to Weekly News Update on the Americas, published by Nicaragua Solidarity Network, 339 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10012; tel 212-674-9499; INB is also distributed free via email; contact for info. You may reprint or distribute items from INB, but please credit us and tell people how to subscribe. Immigration News Briefs is archived at


On Nov. 16, at least 550 workers walked out of the Smithfield Packing Company plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina. Workers at the facility, the largest pork-processing plant in the world, said the walkout was seeking respect and better working conditions, but was also fueled by anger over Smithfield's recent decision to fire a number of immigrants who the company claimed had presented false Social Security numbers. About two-thirds of the plant's 5,500 workers are Latino immigrants. [New York Times 11/17/06; Fayetteville Observer (NC) 11/17/06; Daily Press (Newport News, Virginia) 11/17/06]

Last Jan. 5, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested 13 workers at two Smithfield Foods' packing plants in Smithfield, Virginia [see INB 1/21/06]. According to Smithfield spokesperson Dennis Pittman, several months ago US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) asked Smithfield to join a program to verify employees' names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth and gender. About 600 of the Tar Heel facility's workers were found to have unverifiable information. About 100 of these were called in and asked to verify the information, and 75 were fired because their documentation could not be confirmed. Gene Bruskin, director of the union's organizing drive, said Latino workers brought a lawyer to the plant on Nov. 16 to dispute the legality of the firings. The company wouldn't meet with the lawyer, and that led to the walkout, said Bruskin. [FO 11/17/06]

Smithfield officials said the strike had only slowed production a little. Pittman said 350 workers walked out during the morning shift, and 200 during the afternoon shift. Several employees involved said the numbers were about 700 in the morning and 500 in the afternoon, for a total of 1,200. Leila McDowell, a spokesperson for Justice at Smithfield, a coalition of labor and immigration groups, said that by 4pm, some 800 workers were outside blocking access to the plant. "No trucks were getting through and no hogs were getting slaughtered," she said.

The United Food and Commercial Workers has been seeking to unionize the Smithfield employees in Tar Heel, and has launched a campaign with the support of the Justice at Smithfield coalition, targeting the company's abuse of worker rights. McDowell said the walkout was spontaneous. Pittman claimed the union instigated the strike, and was trying to use it to pressure the company to give in to the unionization campaign. The company has been fighting off a union drive for a decade. Workers cite harsh treatment, production line speeds and widespread injuries as key problems at the plant. [NYT 11/17/06; FO 11/17/06; DP 11/17/06]

Smithfield has been accused in the past of threatening Latino workers with deportation if they supported the Tar Heel union push. "They often use firings and the threat of firings as a form of intimidation when workers start standing up for their rights," said McDowell. "The constant abuse and intimidation just boiled over today," she said. [DP 11/17/06]

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled in May that Smithfield was guilty of threatening workers trying to unionize more than 10 years ago. The court required the company to post notices and mail letters stating it will never assault, interrogate or intimidate workers seeking to organize.

Plant worker Keith Ludlum said he hopes this is the first of many stands workers take. "I think it's fantastic," he said. Dressed in a yellow, waterproof suit with "Union Time" written on his blood-spattered jacket, Ludlum said all workers want is a fair work environment. "We just wanted to be treated like human beings," he said. [FO 11/17/06] Ludlum was fired in 1994 after trying to organize a union at the plant; he won his job back recently after a 12-year court battle. [Workers Independent News 9/29/06]

The Justice at Smithfield campaign is urging people to send messages in support of the workers, demanding that Smithfield not retaliate against strikers, and that it stop the firings and abuses in Tar Heel and respect the workers' right to organize. Letters can be sent to Smithfield Board Chairman Joseph Luter and Smithfield CEO C. Larry Pope through . Smithfield can also be reached at 757-365-3000, 888-366-6767 or . [Justice at Smithfield Urgent Alert 11/16/06]


On Nov. 14, ICE agents arrested 40 Latin American immigrant workers employed by subcontractors at the Ocean Towers construction site in Palm Coast, Florida. The workers are from Honduras, Brazil, El Salvador, Mexico and Peru. They were employed by two subcontractors: Owen Electric Co. Inc. of St. Augustine and Weston Coatings of Daytona Beach, according to ICE spokesperson Barbara Gonzalez. The companies are being investigated.

The US Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Florida may prosecute three Honduran workers for felony reentry after deportation. The other 37 workers were placed in deportation proceedings and transferred to various ICE facilities in Florida. Bill Knox, project manager for construction contractor ACI Construction Services, called the arrests "a minor speed bump" on the project. Subcontractors "have already brought in people from other places to take care of what took place." [ICE News Release 11/16/06; Daytona Beach News-Journal 11/17/06]


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