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October 21, 2005

Tyson Foods Force Thousands of Workers onto Picket Lines in Alberta, Canada

Strikers Hospitalized from Brutal Attacks

(Washington, DC) – As the temperature begins to cool here in the United States, a bitter and brutal cold has crept into the air surrounding the Tyson beef plant in Brooks, Alberta, Canada.  More than 2,300 workers, many of them workers who are refugees from the Sudan, have been forced onto the streets and onto picket lines in a battle to preserve a decent standard of living.  Tyson is leaving workers and their families out in the cold, again.

Workers at the Brooks plant stood up for a voice with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401 in August, 2004, eager for basic workplace protections such as an end to harassment, improved safety training, and better handling of biological hazards.   More than 600 Sudanese immigrant workers were lured to Alberta with the promise of a good job and bright future.  Tyson’s disregard for the basic safety needs of its workforce, immigrant and native, is reprehensible. Picket lines went up on October 12, 2005 after Tyson Foods threw out a proposal by a mediator appointed by the Alberta government to facilitate a first-contract agreement.

“UFCW members and Tyson workers in the United States stand firmly in support of our Canadian brothers and sisters as they stand up against Tyson’s greed,” said Joseph T. Hansen, UFCW International President.  “We are committing every resource available to support our striking workers in Alberta on the frontlines against Tyson’s inexcusable greed.”

Provincial law enforcement officers stood by yesterday as replacement workers and management verbally and physically assaulted Sudanese workers with racially-motivated jeers and anti-immigrant insults.  Several strikers were reportedly beaten with metal pipes, left injured in a ditch before being transported to the hospital.

“Tyson recruits workers from all over the world to bring them to work in their North American operations in a race to the bottom.   Exploitation of a vulnerable immigrant workforce is part of their business plan.  Now, it is particularly galling to see that the Tyson is allowing racially-motivated violence to take place on the picket line,” continued Hansen.

Tyson’s behavior in Alberta follows a pattern it sets in the United States – doing everything in its power to lower wages, cut benefits and reduce workplace standards for employees, particularly immigrant workers.  In 2003, Tyson forced long-time meat processing workers in Jefferson, Wisconsin onto picket lines for nearly one year in order to lower wage and benefit levels for unionized workers in the United States.  In this instance, Tyson’s message to the black immigrant workforce is clear: we brought you to this continent so that we can pay you less than native workers.

Tyson Foods is the Wal-Mart of the meat industry – dominating 27 percent of all beef, pork and chicken sales in the U.S.  But size doesn’t give it the excuse to drag workers’ wages, health care benefits, and workplace standards to the even lower levels.  The company carries very little debt and share prices have increased by 25% in the last year.  Tyson has no financial need to demand sub-standard wage and benefit levels for workers in the U.S. or Canada.

The Brooks facility handles 40% of all beef slaughter in Canada.   It operates under the name “Lakeside Packers.”  Tyson has owned the plant for ten years.

UFCW members in the U.S. will be marching and leafletting in support of the strikers at the Millions More Movement on the National Mall in Washington, DC tomorrow.