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Union: Smithfield Abusing Sioux Falls Slaughterhouse Crews

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….

20 Comments

  1. grudznick 2021-10-30 09:18

    Indeed. Quitcher bitching and go get a better job. Work hard. Earn money.

    Unions are bad, they are bad.

  2. Tom 2021-10-30 09:41

    not to mention the cows!

  3. Scott Ehrisman 2021-10-30 10:38

    You are right, they should get other jobs so we can close this place down for good. The problem is the ESL programs in SF are very minimal, and while we may say just go get another job, many of those jobs will require you to speak in English. There will be a presentation on Tuesday at the SF City Council informational meeting about the programs. Councilor Janet Brekke has long advocated that the program should be expanded and the city should invest in it. We will see.
    As for the Hog Manure Factory, I find it ironic that the city is planning on spending millions over the next decade improving Falls Park and the Stockyard Experience whatever park when right across the street is this disgusting stink hole. I have said we can’t make this area better until the neighbors are gone.

  4. Richard Schriever 2021-10-30 10:40

    From my years in the Organizational Psychology and Workforce Incentives areas, money – the big $$$ cha-ching – is the LEAST effective motivator there is. Most effective are long-term memory building experiences.

  5. Porter Lansing 2021-10-30 13:31

    As a prior, elected Teamster’s representative, Richard is absolutely correct.

    We didn’t bargain for money. We bargained for life improving, work situations.

    Also, grudznick would have never made it through the year’s probation, every union worker goes through, upon being accepted on the job. During that year, the newbie pays union dues but receives no representation. This means, if you look sideways at the boss, you can be fired for no reason necessary. This cancels out the common argument against unions, that it’s too hard to fire a bad worker. The boss has a year to decide if you’re good or lazy. After the first year, union representation’s got the worker’s back.

  6. Loren 2021-10-30 17:38

    During my “productive years,” our union gave up a lot of $$$ to maintain some of the more important work rules, a good strategy until the company declared bankruptcy and took those too. (Side note: Management gave themselves huge bonuses for getting us to take a dive. Morale got so bad after that, the CEO got fired (with parachute, of course)… only to re-emerge at a similar company in less than a year.)

  7. Mark Anderson 2021-10-30 17:44

    Ah Porter, I used to go to union meetings since I was in the first grade. My father took me and ran them. Those workers were shown how and what they needed to do to move up the line. They didn’t have too, they could stay where they were at, but those meeting were the most Democratic events I’ve ever been to. This was the IBEW and they were great. Its so nice to see a reawakening of unions again isn’t it?

  8. Porter Lansing 2021-10-30 19:15

    Now’s a good opportunity for organized labor to progress.

  9. Bonnie B Fairbank 2021-10-30 19:52

    Loren, you are right. I just read “American Made what happens to people when work disappears” by Farah Stockman. I had to suppress my nausea because it became apparent presidents since at least Reagan have killed the working class. Addressing the issue of slaughtering, “dressing” and preserving animal carcasses, I was never a union member; just a hapless minor who killed fish, chicken, and turkeys to help support my family. It was a blessed relief to me when I left home to join the Regular Army.
    I cannot imagine the horror of Smithfield employees.

  10. Nick Nemec 2021-10-30 21:28

    A large share of Smithfield employees are immigrants. I can’t help to think that the disrespect managment is showing employees is rooted in racism.

  11. DaveFN 2021-10-30 21:56

    If unions have any purchase in “right to work” states, it’s primarily because they can hold up/delay decisions by their intervention, something management has sought to undermine. Unions need to cultivate a much more diversified portfolio of strategies.

  12. larry kurtz 2021-10-31 06:45

    Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls gets a wrist-slap from South Dakota’s Republican-owned Department of Ecocide and Natural Ruination (DENR) nearly every year for discharging toxic pollution into the Big Sioux River. In 2019 it was a mere five figure sum. Smithfield contributes overwhelmingly to Republicans including Howdy Doody Dusty Johnson who got 2000 simoleans from them last cycle. Now vulnerable Republican candidates risk biting the hands that feed them. My home state has gone from being America’s laughing stock to becoming a co-conspirator in hate crimes and ethnic cleansing.

  13. LCJ 2021-10-31 08:28

    The worst enemy of a union worker is a union leader.

  14. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-10-31 10:28

    So, LCJ, do you feel the actions of your aphoristic/apocryphal union leader justifies Smithfield’s abuse of its workers? Does your easy line justify the mistreatment of immigrant workers, who, as Nick suggests, likely experience xenophobia in the Smithfield plant and elsewhere in Sioux Falls? Since their union leader is sticking up for them, it seems the worst enemy of the union workers at Smithfield is the management at Smithfield. But, hey, feel free to submit evidence (not just your Fox-conditioned generic responses) to the contrary.

  15. O 2021-10-31 10:49

    I would say the worst enemy of a union worker is an economy beholden to the investor class who value return on passive investment over work. A close second goes to a perverse tax code that concentrates wealth with the 1% wile uniquely using the working class to fill the financial gaps in financing a civil society. Third a political party who intervenes to artificially and undemocratically suppress worker power while screaming “free market” would also make any rational enemy list.

    Unfortunately, LCJ’s quip would apply better to political parties, the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, or any organization where money is involved.

  16. Richard Schriever 2021-10-31 11:21

    Dave FN – the primary function of unions I’ve been a part of has always been TRAINING people in the SKILLS necessary to perform the jo to the best quality. This includes the Bricklayers back in the 70’s, the Teamsters in the 80’s, the Stage and Theatrical Workers in the 90’s and the Operating Engineers today.

  17. LCJ 2021-10-31 12:29

    If the worker’s are suffering, then the union leaders are failing.
    Just like the weak teachers union in SD
    They don’t do anything for education but they sure can bitch about how everything is somebody else’s fault.

  18. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2021-11-01 10:37

    LCJ, your complaint sounds like saying, “If citizens are suffering from crime, then the police are failing.” Do we blame the police from criminals engaging in criminal activity?

    You keep dodging the issue: the union is identifying abuse of workers. Do you excuse abuse of workers? Shouldn’t Smithfield be required to end that abuse? Isn’t speaking up about that abuse the first responsible step to doing something about it? The union doesn’t have unilateral power over Smithfield’s abusive management practices. To blame the union for Smithfield’s abuses is simply wrong.

    (And grind your anti-teacher axe elsewhere; that point only further distracts, unconstructively, from the point that Smithfield is abusing its workers.)

  19. Jake 2021-11-01 10:53

    LCJ learned from watching his GQP heroes on tv do the “sidewinder shuffle” dance of trying to throw attention off a tough question illuminate another point of deflection.

  20. O 2021-11-01 12:03

    In right to work states, labor, even union workers, serve only to enrich shareholders/owners. Exploitation for the 1%. Legislative mandated control is necessary when reason and decency are abandoned.

    It is why we also see disdain for social welfare safety nets like SNAP or housing assistance; employers need to have the threat of starvation and homelessness to hold over workers’ heads to force workers to take and keep jobs that are terrible.

    The problem with labor stoppages is that with the obscene concentration of wealth, the ability to make billionaire owners feel effects of loss of production income is nonexistent. How much wealth does a billionaire have to lose to have an affect on his lifestyle? Workers are hurt; consumers are hurt; owners are insulated.

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