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November 20, 2008

Meatpacking Workers Win Solid Wage and Benefits Increases in New Agreement with Smithfield/Patrick Cudahy

(Washington, DC) – A new contract covering 1450 Smithfield/Patrick Cudahy workers in Cudahy, Wis., raises living standards for meatpacking workers and their families. The contract negotiated by union members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1473 provides solid wage increases, lower worker health care costs with improved health care benefits, and greater pension security.

“This is a good contract,” said production worker and UFCW Local 1473 member Ilma Santiago. “Good wages, good health care, and good pension benefits.”

The new five-year contract provides:

  • Wage increase of $1.26, increasing base-wage rates to $12.66  an hour with a top rate of  $32.08 an hour
  • A $175 lump-sum payment
  • Improvements in wellness health care coverage—and a five percent decrease in worker health care costs
  • Increases pension and improves retirement security
  • A $200 annual tool allowance
  • Increases life insurance
  • Increases sick allowance pay
  • Improves vacation benefits
  • Improves funeral and bereavement pay

The Cudahy contract is the latest of several major collective bargaining wins for UFCW packing and food processing members across the country.

“It’s good to have a union, especially in these tough economic times—a UFCW contract means security for my family,” said Santiago.

November 20, 2008

HYRUM JBS/SWIFT WORKERS STAND UP FOR VOICE ON THE JOB

Hyrum, Utah – More than 1,100 workers gained union representation with United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 711 yesterday at the JBS/Swift beef plant (known locally as the E. A. Miller plant) in Hyrum, Utah, after voting overwhelmingly for a voice on the job.

“We stood together for a better future for our families,” said Isaias Lopez, a 22-year veteran of the plant. “That was the first step. Now, we can work on a first contract that brings greater opportunity to our workplace.”

The Hyrum plant has been in operation for over seventy years and became part of the JBS family with their acquisition of Swift meatpacking almost two years ago. It had been the only JBS/Swift plant in the United States that did not have union representation.

“This victory means we’ll have a voice at work,” said plant worker Adalberto Soto. We voted ‘UFCW Yes.’ It was an easy decision, and it was the right decision for our families and our future.”

“When we sit down with management to negotiate that first contract,” continued Soto, “We won’t sit down alone. We’ll stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our ten thousand brothers and sisters at all the JBS/Swift plants across the country, and with all workers in the packing and processing industry. The more workers who unite in our industry—the   more powerful we are to make better lives for our families.”

Yesterday’s result of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election was a culmination of a worker-led campaign designed to give these men and women a stronger voice on the job and more opportunity for their families.

“This is an exciting opportunity for the Hyrum workers,” said Max Aldama, a member of UFCW Local 1149 and an employee at JBS/Swift’s Marshalltown, Iowa plant who assisted workers in organizing their Hyrum plant. “JBS/Swift has always been willing to work honestly and openly with us in Marshalltown, and I know they’ll live up to the high standards they have always set and kept for themselves.”

November 14, 2008

UFCW Local 222 Staff Member Carmen Hacht Receives Health and Safety Award

November 10–Local 222 Recording Secretary Carmen Hacht is the 2007 recipient of the 2008 Tony Mazzocchi Award, an award for excellence in occupational health and safety in the workplace.

Hacht worked at Tyson Foods Inc. meatpacking plant (formerly IBP) in Nebraska for 20 years, playing a role as an active steward from the very beginning of her time there. In the mid-1980s, IBP workers were suffering from high rates of MSDs. Local 222 and the UFCW International’s Safety and Health department filed an OSHA complaint, and IBP receieved one of the highest fines ever for failing to provide a safe and healthy workplace.

Settlement of the citations led to a successful ergonomic program, and Carmen became an “”ergonomic monitor,”” a line worker trained in ergonomics. She was responsible for job analysis, audits of workers on light duty jobs, worker advocacy when workers were injured and needed help getting through the medical system, and monitoring workers training and skills.

Carmen’s work at Local 222 now includes overseeing the ergonomics program at the meatpacking plants. She teaches new monitors what their jobs will entail, and has earned the trust and respect of the plant workers. The UFCW is proud of the contributions that Carmen has made over the years to improving working conditions for thousands of workers.

November 13, 2008

Millions of Workers Being Denied Billions in Hard-Earned Wages

WASHINGTON, DC – “”American businesses are bilking millions of working Americans out of billions in wages every year,”” said Michael J. Wilson, International Vice President and Director of Legislative and Political Action at the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, who appeared at the Department of Labor early this afternoon to discuss wage theft. Conservative estimates place the sum of illegally withheld wages at $20 billion. Millions of Americans are denied overtime, forced to work off the clock, and unjustly docked pay. American workers reasonably expect that the laws governing wages passed by the United States Congress and state legislatures will be respected by their employers. They expect that they shouldn’t have to go to court to collect the paychecks they’ve earned.

Recent history is filled with examples of systematic circumvention of wage and hour law by some of America’s biggest companies:

• The world’s single largest employer, Wal-Mart, faced nearly sixty lawsuits for violating wage and hour regulations in 2006 alone. Among numerous other breaches of state and federal law, Wal-Mart has docked workers’ pay for eating lunch, forced employees to stay at work off the clock, and denied overtime pay to individuals working full shifts seven days a week.

• Agriprocessors, Inc., one of the largest kosher meatpacking plants in the country, illegally charged more than 2,000 workers for required uniforms and safety gear, and withheld final paychecks from dozens of employees.

• Michael Bianco, Inc., a company with significant military contracts, docked workers 15 minutes worth of pay for being just one minute late, docked workers $20 of pay for being in the restroom for longer than two minutes, and required workers to work two consecutive shifts without overtime pay.

“”We’re not talking about mom-and-pop shops forgetting a nickel here and a dime there; some of the nation’s biggest companies have been systematically denying employees their hard-earned wages,”” said Wilson. “”Workers should reasonably be able expect that they won’t need to go to court to collect the paychecks they’ve earned.””

November 10, 2008

PriceRite Workers and Grocery Workers

Providence, R.I.—On November 7, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), grocery workers and community members gathered at the Providence PriceRite store on 325 Valley St to reach out to shoppers. Workers handed out flyers to customers and talked to them about the need for good union jobs, especially in this troubled economy.

PriceRite is owned by Wakefern–the same company that owns and/or supplies ShopRite stores in Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, Connecticut, Maryland and New Jersey, where the vast majority of workers have a union. Those ShopRite workers say their union, the UFCW, gives them benefits like good wages, quality, affordable health care, and respect on the job–the kind of benefits that make grocery jobs the good, middle-class jobs that strengthen communities.

PriceRite stores are primarily located in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Workers in these states also began reaching out to customers today. PriceRite workers say they are not being allowed the same freedom to choose a union–without company interference.

“”I’ve seen PriceRite run all over immigrant workers and disrespect them in lots of ways,”” said PriceRite worker Charles Heirsch. “”That’s not good for workers or families here in Providence.””

“”It’s just unfair,”” said Ronnie Cabral, Jr., a PriceRite employee. “We need the union here, too, so we can get better pay and health care, and job security.””

A majority of PriceRite workers are part-time, and are not eligible for health care. When workers can’t get health care, it means more uninsured families in Providence–and taxpayers footing the bills for government health care. PriceRite workers are reaching out to community members to help make their employer understand: in this troubled economy, the last thing Providence needs is dead-end, low-paying jobs that don’t provide health care coverage.

“”We’re not just workers–we’re a part of the community,”” says Heirsch. “”If we can improve jobs at PriceRite, it will help working families and make our middle class stronger. That’s why we need a union at PriceRite.””

November 7, 2008

A New Day for Working Families

Washington — The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) endorsed President-elect Barack Obama’s candidacy in February because his run for the White House was based on renewing hope for the middle class—on restoring the American Dream for America’s workers.  UFCW members are energized to seize this opportunity to change America and restore the American Dream for workers and their families.

The UFCW is the largest union of young workers with more than 40 percent of our 1.3 million members under the age of 30.  The UFCW was the first major labor unions to support Barack Obama’s primary campaign because his message of changing hope into reality inspired our young members across the country.

Twenty-two-year-old UFCW Local 1776 member Samantha Miskevich of Limerick, Pennsylvania, pointed out how especially significant the election was for young voters, observing that “[t]his is our time. For me and my peers, this election was our 1960’s moment, our moment to vote for change. I’ve never worked so hard or talked to so many people. This election was about saving the middle class.”

UFCW members, and millions of Americans, have been inspired by President-elect Obama to build a movement to unite our country that will deliver the type of change that is needed – for good jobs, affordable health care, retirement security and worker safety.   Today is a new day for working families.

UFCW members are proud to have played such a vital role in bringing change to Washington, D.C. and setting a course that will improve the lives of their children and grandchildren.  Tuesday’s election was only the beginning of the movement.  UFCW members are ready to keep up the hard work to make President-elect Obama’s change platform a reality.

President-elect Obama understands the needs of working people and is committed to restoring the balance between working America and corporate America.   The U.S. economy needs urgent attention and President-elect Obama understands that we need an economy built on real income for real workers – not on inflated housing markets and unreliable stock prices.  Restoring the middle class is the best way to rebuild our economy and the UFCW is ready to work closely with President-elect Obama to make that dream a reality.

Today is a new day for meatpackers and food processors who work long hours to ensure that the dreams of their sons and daughters for college and a better life become a reality.  It’s a new day for cashiers and clerks in retail and grocery stores who work every day to make sure they don’t have to choose between feeding their families or paying health care bills. Tuesday’s election was about filling dreams of hard working people across this country.

November 5, 2008

HISTORIC VICTORY FOR WORKING FAMILIES

WASHINGTON – The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) endorsed President-elect Barack Obama’s candidacy in February because his run for the White House was based on renewing hope for the middle class—on restoring the American Dream for America’s workers. UFCW members nationwide were excited and energized by Barack Obama’s message. And that excitement and energy unleashed an unprecedented nationwide mobilization and outreach effort that reached millions of working families across the country to help secure Obama’s historic victory.

“We pounded the pavement, worked the phones and went door-to-door,” said 22-year-old Samantha Miskevich, Fish Department manager at an Acme Supermarket in Limerick, Penn., and member of UFCW Local Union 1776. “I’ve never worked so hard or talked to so many people. This election was about saving the middle class.”

The UFCW’s efforts were comprehensive, focusing not only on traditional battleground states, but also in expanding the electoral map in key states, including Virginia and Colorado, where UFCW members turned out in record numbers to change the direction of our country.

“This election was about getting America back on track,” said Teresa Ransone, a UFCW Local Union 400 member and Kroger supermarket cake decorator in Roanoke, Va.  “What inspired me was Senator Obama’s position on affordable education and health care,” continued Ms. Ransone, who put in extra hours volunteering to phone bank and canvass for Obama in southwestern Virginia. “He proved time and again why he was the best candidate.”

UFCW local unions across the country were critical to countering misinformation, informing voters about the issues that matter to working families and ensuring that successful get-out-the-vote operations were in place.

While the hard fought election is now over, the UFCW efforts to rebuild our ailing economy and strengthen our middle class have just begun.

The UFCW looks forward to working closely with the Obama Administration and Congress to restore good middle class jobs to our communities.

“We know change cannot come overnight,” said Ransone.  “But working people are ready to support President Obama and our other elected leaders to put economic policies in place that work for the middle class. Electing Senator Obama was the first step, but there’s more work to be done. We’re ready and committed.”

November 5, 2008

McCain Trades Away America

Washington, D.C. – As Senator John McCain tries to portray himself as a candidate who cares about America’s working class, his trip to Colombia and Mexico this week to highlight his support for “free trade” is another indication of how out of touch he is to the economic plight of America’s workers and their families.

Senator McCain has borrowed from the Bush Administration’s playbook of supporting trade agreements that have devastated the economy and sent good, middle class jobs overseas.  He has consistently voted for unfair trade agreements, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), and supported China’s entry into the World Trade Organization despite its ongoing history of human rights and workers’ rights violations.  To add insult to injury, he also voted against measures intended to help stem the flow of jobs lost due to these agreements.

These unfair trade agreements have resulted in the loss of high-wage jobs across the manufacturing sector and damaged our country’s long-standing reputation for technical innovation.  NAFTA has contributed to the loss of approximately three million high-wage manufacturing jobs in the United States since 1994, and the loss of high-wage manufacturing jobs to China has forced many Americans to work for substandard wages and benefits—further endangering our country’s economic stability and security.
America’s workers cannot afford four more years of a leader who favors corporate interests over the well being of America’s middle class.  The 2008 election provides us with an opportunity to elect a leader who will be tougher in demanding a fair trade system that puts America’s workers first.  The UFCW will continue to fight for trade reform by mobilizing its 1.3 million members to ensure that Senator Barack Obama becomes the next president of the United States.

November 5, 2008

McCain-omics Will Hurt America

Washington, D.C. – Senator John McCain once admitted that he just doesn’t understand the economy, and his recent economic plan proves that to be true.  By giving big tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy few, supporting trade agreements that have contributed to the loss of good, middle class jobs, and creating a new tax on workers’ health care benefits, McCain-omics means four more years of hardship for America’s workers and their families.

McCain-omics recycles the failed economic policies of President Bush and builds on the president’s seven-year record of fiscal incompetence and mismanagement.  Over the course of the Bush Administration, America’s debt has increased to over $9 trillion, gas prices have climbed to over $4 a gallon, and the share of mortgages entering foreclosure is at the highest level on record since 1979.  In addition, the number of uninsured Americans, including children, has increased to 47 million, and the cost of health care has risen three times faster than inflation and wages.

While Senator McCain tries to portray himself as a maverick who cares about America’s workers, McCain-omics marches in lockstep with corporate America and ignores the needs of  working men and women who are struggling to cope with the high cost of health care, housing, food, fuel and education.  In fact, McCain-omics adds to the economic burden of America’s workers by creating a new tax on working families by making employer-paid health care premiums part of taxable income.

The 2008 election presents us with an opportunity to elect a leader who will bring positive economic change and put the needs of America’s workers above corporate interests.  The UFCW is fighting for the type of change that is needed to restore the American Dream—including good jobs, affordable health care, retirement security, worker safety and the right to choose a union—by mobilizing its 1.3 million members to ensure that Senator Barack Obama becomes the next president of the United States.

November 1, 2008

Worker Impact of ICE Raids at Swift

On behalf of the 1.3 million members of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to address this briefing panel about the impact of our broken immigration system on workers across the country.

The UFCW is the largest private sector union in North America—and, one of the largest unions of new immigrant workers in the U.S. with more than 200,000 new immigrants as members.

We are the primary worker representative in industries that are major employers of immigrant workers, meatpacking, food processing and poultry and have a hundred-year history of fighting for safe working conditions and good wages on behalf of packing and processing workers.

Last Tuesday morning, 13,000 workers clocked in to work as they do every day. They didn’t know that government agents would soon storm their worksites dressed in riot gear, brandishing military weapons and locking the doors to prevent anyone from coming in or out. Their mission involved a warrant ICE had obtained to apprehend 170 individuals suspected of identity theft.

The ICE action clearly reached far beyond those 170 suspects. Workers were herded into cafeterias and segregated. In Utah, the ICE agents used skin color to identify the “”suspects.”” In other locations naturalized citizens were separated from the native born.

In effect, people were subjected to a criminal process simply for going to work. In some plants, workers with proper authorization had their identification stripped from them. Many were detained and then transported far from home before being given an opportunity to present their case.

Walter Molina was pulled into the group of detained suspects. His girlfriend wasn’t allowed to bring his valid green card to him at the Grand Island, Nebraska, plant.

Lacking ID, he was transported six hours away to Camp Dodge, Iowa, where, after confirming his status, ICE released him. He was left to fend for himself and had to spend $140 of his own money on a bus ticket home.

Walter’s story was repeated over and over again as workers were held captive by ICE agents and denied both representation by their union and due process to clear themselves before being hauled away to distant cities and other states.

Perhaps the most inhumane result of the ICE action last Tuesday is how it ripped parents away from hundreds of children at schools and with babysitters. In one small school district in Texas, 25 children were left in their care the evening of the raid. In Marshalltown, Iowa, a Hispanic ministry was caring for a breastfeeding infant whose single mother was detained. The baby refused a bottle and was struggling to eat. ICE transported her mother to a Georgia detention facility two days later. To this day, one week later, there a small child still with a non-relative babysitter. We still cannot locate its only parent presumed to be caught up in this raid.

There are still hundreds, if not thousands, of children – U.S.-born citizens – left under the care of neighbors, friends, relatives or local charities. The loss of breadwinners has left families unable to pay for food, shelter, or heat.

The real tragedy here is that none of this had to happen. Just last month, four workers from the Louisville, Kentucky, Swift meat packing plant were arrested by ICE agents as part of this same investigation. ICE officials calmly went into the plant and extracted the four individuals who they were looking for. The Louisville plant was not raided on Tuesday.

Government agents could have approached all of the plants the same way they approached the Louisville facility. They could have but they choose not to do so. To date, only 65 people have been charged with identity theft.

Let me be clear, the UFCW does not condone identity theft or any illegal activity. Our union supports law enforcement doing its job. In fact, we represent many law enforcement officers across the country. But we have a real problem when law enforcement goes too far—and in the Swift raids law enforcement was more about politics and making a splash than about apprehending individuals suspected of identity theft.

There are those who say that family disruption is the price parents pay for breaking the law. But indiscriminate military-style raids that sweep up people like Walter Molina are aimed more at visiting trauma and fear on entire workforces and communities than apprehending individuals who may have broken the law. Worksite raids, family disruption, criminalizing work – this is not an effective immigration system.

The core issue here is a failed immigration system that compounds its failure by victimizing workers. The Basic Pilot Program has been laden with problems since its inception. In the case of the Swift raids, you have a company that was, by and large, in compliance with Basic Pilot. That didn’t stop ICE from storming the plants, refusing to allow workers to meet with their union representatives, denying attorney access to workers, and casting whole communities into turmoil.

The recent IMAGE program allows companies to opt into a procedure that can provide cover for firing workers who speak up for workplace safety and other protections.

Immigration policy must face reality. We have to face the reality that corporations export jobs in search of cheap wages and weak labor laws. And other companies that can’t export jobs import workers to create a domestic pool of exploitable labor.

These companies lure undocumented immigrants to the U.S. to create a low-wage, disposable workforce in this country. They advertise for workers outside U.S. borders. They utilize labor contractors. They use current workers to recruit more workers. They pay immigrants less, offer fewer benefits, and threaten them with deportation if they stand up for better wages, working conditions, or try to organize a union.

The failure of trade policy to include strong, enforceable labor standards has created a vast international labor pool that lives and works without rights or hope for the future. This is the reality we face.

Raiding workplaces, breaking up families, and devastating communities offer no genuine or sensible answer to this situation. Temporary worker programs are not the solution.

It is put forward by advocates as a realistic and humane way to deal with the issue of immigration—after all, companies require a labor force and immigrant workers seek employment.

But the true reality of temporary worker would institutionalize our current system, where immigrant workers are preyed upon and used as a wedge to lower wages and working conditions for all workers, especially in the many industries that require hard physical labor—and it wouldn’t be difficult to speculate that the Swift ICE raids were intended to build political will for temporary worker.

Temporary worker would officially relegate immigrants to second class status and give companies another excuse to turn permanent jobs that pay well into low-wage, no-benefit, and no-future jobs.

Guestworker, or Temporary worker as it is now called, has historically led to the mistreatment of workers.

Temporary worker, particularly in industries that do not require college or even high school degrees, inherently provide employers with the opportunity to abuse and exploit workers.

We have laws that say workers must have a safe workplace, but the laws are useless if workers can take no action under the law without fear of deportation.

We have laws that say workers can take collective action to improve working conditions, but employers will and do end workers’ guestworker status and, therefore, employment for any number of reasons when, coincidentally, those workers happen to be speaking out on behalf of safer workplaces or forming a union.

I have witnessed just this kind of action on the part of employers. American democracy works because it’s inclusive. If you live and work in America, you ought to be able to participate in the decision-making that governs your life. But temporary worker would permanently exclude individuals who contribute to our economic wellbeing from participating in our democratic process.

If America is about anything, it is about hope—especially hope to achieve the American dream.

We must have an immigration system that helps turn that hope into reality for all workers, new immigrant and native-born. We must have comprehensive reform—and that reform should rest on four basic principles:

1) A system that authentically regulates legal entry into this country.

2) One that criminalizes employer recruitment and importation of undocumented labor.

3) It must provide a path to legalization for immigrants who have worked here for years, paying taxes and contributing to their communities.

4) And it must ensure that our immigration processes do not provide employers an incentive to undermine workplace standards that lower wages and benefits for all workers.

We have seen thousands of immigrant workers killed, injured and maimed on the job. We have seen immigrant workers crammed into substandard housing. We have seen millions of immigrant workers underpaid and overworked, used up and then dumped, without rights or regard for their well-being.

The Swift raids are simply the latest in a long chain of abuse resulting from the failure of our immigration system.

It must stop. This is America and that should still mean something to all of us. We must challenge our country to be the America that has been the hope of immigrants, and all workers, for more than two centuries.

Thank you.