Smithfield Foods must not have gotten the memo that it’s a worker’s market. In a press release issued Friday, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 304A, which represents nearly 3,500 of the factory workers who turn livestock into kitchen-ready chow (eat much? Thank a farmer and a union worker!), say the Sioux Falls slaughterhouse is treating its workers more poorly than usual. Union president B.J. Motley describes the company’s bad-faith treatment of its workers:
The workers of Smithfield have reached their limit on the amount of abuse they can tolerate from this cooperation. Like the rest of the country we face the same shortage of worker challenges. However, where most companies are finding accommodations to make the workload easier for employees, Smithfield continues to speed lines of production, verbally abuse their employees, take away essential sanitation cleanness measures, and completely neglect social distancing. In consequence we are seeing record number of quits, injuries, grievances and overall unhappiness.
Our workers are tired, and their families are being affected by the heartlessness of the situation. Our members are being forced to come into work on the weekends, even if their department is not scheduled, so they may be outsourced out to other areas. All that our workers want is for the company to respect their very limited times with their families and treat them with the respect they deserve for being the essential workers that they are.
Hopes were high as a new HR team came into the Sioux Falls facility, Including a new HR Director Monica Derby. However, in the short while that this “new” administration has been in place, we see that they are first and foremost there for the management team without little to no consideration of the hard-working production workers. We are trying to stay hopeful that the company does the right thing, and fear we are reaching the end of a good faith collaboration between the company and the union [B.J. Motley, president, UFCW Local 304A, press release, 2021.10.29].
UFCW Local 304A’s complaint comes just a couple days after a report from the U.S. House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis revealed that coronavirus cases at Smithfield’s Sioux Falls slaughterhouse were more than 72% higher than originally reported. The report also notes that Smithfield lobbied really hard to get the CDC to water down its coronavirus safety recommendations for the Sioux Falls plant.
Back in June, Governor Kristi Noem denounced Smithfield and other meatpackers for “stealing” from livestock growers. We eagerly await her joining President Motley in denouncing Smithfield for stealing rest and family time from livestock processors.
But rather than waiting for the Governor’s support, workers at Smithfield may want to join the nationwide surge in labor stoppages to pressure Smithfield to treat them better. Smithfield dodged a strike back in June by offering its Sioux Falls workers some pay and benefit enhancements, but the UFCW Local 304A’s press release indicates the company may have squandered the goodwill it secured with those June concessions.
Or Smithfield workers could skip the struggle and switch to some of the 9,097 jobs the state is currently listing as open in Minnehaha County. As I said, it is a worker’s market….