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October 30, 2008

Iowa Smithfield Workers Ratify Strong New Contract

 

Sioux City, Iowa– Nearly a thousand workers represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 1142 voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new contract with Smithfield Foods at the companys John Morrell Plant in Sioux City, Iowa. The four- and a half-year agreement delivers wage increases that keep plant workers at the top of the industry standard and maintains affordable health care.

Weve been at the bargaining table since last October, said UFCW Local 1142 President Warren Baker. The negotiations were contentious. Theres always give and take, but, in the end, we arrived at a fair settlement.””

The new contract establishes:

–Wage increases including $1.50/hr. base wage increase over the life of the contract for production workers and $1.65/hr. base wage increase for maintenance workers.

–Maintains affordable health care, with no co-premium increases in the first or last half year of the contract. Weekly increases of $1.50 for individual and $3 for family coverage are triggered in years two, three, and four of the contract.

–Maintains pension security

–Increases sick pay

–Improves working conditions

The contract is really good in terms of the health insurance, said Gary Petz, who has worked at the plant for 23 years. Overall, the good wage increases and benefits are a result of everyone sticking together for a contract that provides security for our families.

October 29, 2008

Joint Statement of Smithfield and UFCW

The parties have reached a settlement of the lawsuit pending in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Richmond Division.  The essential elements of the settlement are as follows:

1.         Smithfield and the UFCW have agreed on what both parties believe to be a fair election process by which the employees at Smithfield’s Tar Heel plant can choose whether or not to be represented by the UFCW.

2.         Smithfield and the UFCW have agreed to establish a Feed the Hungry Program to be jointly funded and administered by the UFCW and Smithfield.

3.         The UFCW agrees to end its public campaign against Smithfield.

4.         The parties have agreed there shall be no further public statement about this settlement until the election referenced in paragraph one above has been concluded.

 

September 29, 2008

UNITED INDIANA GROCERY WORKERS ACHIEVE HIGHER LIVING STANDARDS

(Indianapolis, IN) Workers in Indiana’s grocery industry now have better jobs and a stronger voice at the bargaining table, thanks to a new agreement between UFCW Local 700 and the Kroger Company.

The contract covers 1100 Kroger/Sav-On workers in central Indiana, and includes:

  • Early and significant wage increases and bonuses;
  • Major improvements to health and welfare, with employer contribution increases;
  • Increases in paid holidays, vacations, and personal days.

“I am thrilled,” said Jennifer Keating, Local 700 member and Kroger Sav-On employee.  “I’ve only been with the company a little over a year, and with this contract I’m going to get $2.65 in raises in just one year. And I’ve also gained another week’s paid vacation.”

Marcia Sisson, a pharmacy tech at Kroger Sav-On and UFCW 700 member, agreed. “It’s a great deal,” she said of the agreement, which increases her pay $3 over the contract.

“UFCW Local 700 is part of the Grocery Workers United program, which is leading a nationwide effort to make grocery jobs good jobs,” said UFCW Local 700 President Joe Chorpenning. “The UFCW has settled good contracts, the kind that bring good jobs, in cities across the country—including right here in Indianapolis. By uniting workers to bargain better contracts,” he said, “we’re helping grocery workers throughout Indiana turn supermarket jobs into good, middle class jobs—the kind that come with affordable health care, a living wage, and a secure retirement, and that benefit workers and their communities.”

Members are keenly aware of the difference the contract will make to their standard of living. “Gaining this new prescription card will save me hundreds of dollars,” said Miranda Biddle, Local 700 member and Kroger Sav-On employee. “And I gain another $250,000 in coverage and free cleanings, vision and dental improvements, too. I love it!”

“Grocery store workers across Indiana are enjoying better lives because they are uniting to improve wages and benefits in the grocery industry,” said Chorpenning. “And we’re taking that message to every community in Indiana, from Evansville to Fort Wayne.”

September 26, 2008

DENISON FARMLAND WORKERS RATIFY NEW FOUR-YEAR CONTRACT

(Denison, Iowa) – The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 440 and Farmland are pleased to announce a new four-year contract covering the 1,400 workers at the Denison, Iowa, pork processing facility.  The contract was ratified by UFCW Local 440 members during meetings yesterday in Denison.

The new contract includes wage increases that keep Denison workers among the highest paid in the pork industry and provides Farmland with new operating efficiencies.   UFCW and Farmland also found solutions that provide quality, affordable health care coverage for workers and their families.

The bargaining process also produced innovative safety and health language that will keep the Denison Farmland plant one of the safest meatpacking plants in the nation.

Farmland is a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods.

September 25, 2008

UNITED FOOD AND COMMERICAL WORKERS URGES CONGRESS TO MAKE RETIREMENT SECURITY PART OF FINANCIAL RESCUE PACKAGE

Washington DC — The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) is calling on Congress to include pension security as part of the financial rescue package expected to pass by day’s end tomorrow.

Current pension law provides that if a pension plan’s rating slips, benefits of retirees must be cut absent increases in funding. It would be grossly unfair to pensioners if their benefits were cut while a troubled financial institution receives bailout assistance.

The fair course to take would be to temporarily suspend the enforcement of the pension law until Congress develops a plan to allow pension portfolios to return to more normal levels.

This would benefit both union and non-union companies.  It is crucial that any actions taken by Congress do not permanently reduce the pension benefits in an attempt to solve the temporary but serious financial crisis.

The retirement security for millions of workers and their families is on the line.  Congress must be mindful of the long-term implications of the rescue package and how it relates to other regulatory laws that impact workers pensions.  Failure to address the immediate adverse impact of the financial meltdown on pension plans would have disastrous consequences for ordinary working Americans who have an expectation of receiving adequate benefits at retirement.

 

September 24, 2008

DENISON FARMLAND WORKERS REACH TENATIVE AGREEMENT

(Denison, Iowa) – Farmland Foods and the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 440 returned to the bargaining table this week and reached a tentative agreement that addresses the bargaining unit’s concerns about the previous offer and increases Farmland’s production capacity.  Both parties look forward to a union ratification vote on September 25, 2008.

Farmland is a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods.

The UFCW is the voice for meatpacking and food processing workers, with more than 250,000 of the union’s 1.3 million members working in these industries.

For more information, contact Mark Kuemmerlein, Farmland Foods, 816-243-2854 or Jill Cashen, UFCW, 202-728-4797.

 

September 3, 2008

Restoring the American Dream

Washington DC—Martin Luther King Jr. once described Americans and our American way of life this way: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

That statement is as profound—and instructive—today as it was a half century ago when Dr. King wrote those words from a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama.

Labor Day traditionally kicks off the final sprint to Election Day. From now until November 4, Americans will engage in a national debate about who to entrust with the awesome responsibility of leading our nation. It is up to every single American to determine the tone and character of that debate. We have a choice. We can conduct this debate on the merits of each candidate, knowing that we are, all of us, tied in a single garment, endeavoring in the serious work of setting the future course for our children and grandchildren. Or we can use this national debate as a platform to breed division, conflict, and racial fears as some extremists are already doing in newspapers and over the airwaves.

We cannot solve the challenges before us unless we truly recognize that we must solve them together. Americans may come from different backgrounds and outlooks—but we share the same hope of achieving the American dream. All of us want to take part, and do our part, in a society that provides a better life for every American.

I believe Senator Barack Obama is the best candidate—the American dream candidate—not only for working people, but for all Americans. He believes in the promise of the American dream because he has lived it. He believes that, in America, if you work hard you ought to share in the success of your labor. In America, you ought to be able to earn wages and benefits that can raise a family.

From ending the war in Iraq to shoring up the economy, from ensuring health care for every American to solving our energy crisis, Barack Obama has thoughtful, well-formulated proposals designed to put America back on track—and make the American dream a real possibility again for working families. That’s why it is so gravely distressing to see the nefarious efforts of those who would turn back the clock in America by fueling racial fears and inciting racial conflicts around Senator Obama’s candidacy.

Americans need serious debate about how best to meet the challenges of our ailing economy. We need real, workable proposals on how to fix our health care system and make college more affordable for our kids. It’s critically important for the U.S. to regain its place as a leader on the world stage. Yet there are those who persist in distracting us with divisive and morally repugnant racial fear mongering.

In this election, working people have an incredible opportunity to turn our country around. We can reject the politics of division and conflict. We can say: “Not this time, not this election.”  Union members know better than most, as Martin Luther King says, “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” We know that an injury to one is an injury to all. And grave injury is caused by those who would demean this election with racial rhetoric.

Let’s focus the debate on the prospects for a better tomorrow in which all workers will have their rights protected and their hard work respected; a tomorrow with affordable health care for all Americans, economic prosperity and national security. If we conduct a responsible national debate, we can elect a new president who will bring about positive economic change—a president who will not put corporate interests above those of working people. We have a clear choice on the November presidential ballot. Barack Obama offers change and hope—he brings a commitment to the cause of working people. With his leadership, we can change America, and restore the American dream.

July 29, 2008

UFCW Calls on OSHA to Issue a Combustible Dust Standard

Washington, D.C. –  OSHA’s proposed fines of $8.7 million for violations at the Imperial Sugar plant near Savannah, Georgia, where an explosion killed 13 workers in February, and at another plant in Gramercy, Louisiana, magnify the gaps in current OSHA enforcement standards with regard to combustible dust, including a reliance on “general duty” citations and a patchwork of other standards which are limited in scope and do not address such critical considerations as design, maintenance, hazard review and explosion protection.  This action also underscores OSHA’s reluctance to follow the recommendations of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) that may have prevented the tragedy in Georgia and other combustible dust explosions.

 

The fines also expose OSHA’s inability to monitor the actions of big businesses such as Imperial Sugar.  The explosion in Georgia took place on February 7; however, OSHA inspectors found that the company had not taken immediate steps to mitigate another potential disaster when they inspected the plant in Louisiana a month later.

 

Earlier this year, the UFCW and the Teamsters called on OSHA to issue an emergency standard on combustible dust, and filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Labor demanding that OSHA follow the 2006 recommendations of the CSB, an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents.

 

In 2006, the CSB recommended that OSHA issue a rule that would have reduced the possibility of combustible dust explosions.  That year, the CSB conducted a major study of combustible dust hazards, and noted that a quarter of the explosions that occureed between 1980 and 2005 that were identified, occurred at food industry facilities, including sugar refineries.  In only one or two investigations were these incidents caused by mechanical mysteries that were either unforeseen or unpredicted.

 

Standards and codes have existed for years for OSHA to build upon and eliminate this type of explosion.  In 1987, OSHA issued the Grain Handling Facilities Standard as the result of grain dust explosions in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  This standard has effectively reduced the number and severity of combustible grain dust explosions in the grain handling industry, but stopped short of regulating combustible dust in industries outside of the grain industry.

 

The UFCW applauds the U.S. House of Representatives for passing legislation to force OSHA to set a combustible dust standard, and urges President Bush to reconsider his veto threat.  OSHA must act now and follow the recommendations of the CSB before more workers are killed or horribly injured.

 

July 28, 2008

UFCW Calls on OSHA to Issue a Combustile Dust Standard

Washington, D.C. –  OSHA’s proposed fines of $8.7 million for violations at the Imperial Sugar plant near Savannah, Georgia, where an explosion killed 13 workers in February, and at another plant in Gramercy, Louisiana, magnify the gaps in current OSHA enforcement standards with regard to combustible dust, including a reliance on “general duty” citations and a patchwork of other standards which are limited in scope and do not address such critical considerations as design, maintenance, hazard review and explosion protection.  This action also underscores OSHA’s reluctance to follow the recommendations of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) that may have prevented the tragedy in Georgia and other combustible dust explosions.

The fines also expose OSHA’s inability to monitor the actions of big businesses such as Imperial Sugar.  The explosion in Georgia took place on February 7; however, OSHA inspectors found that the company had not taken immediate steps to mitigate another potential disaster when they inspected the plant in Louisiana a month later.

Earlier this year, the UFCW and the Teamsters called on OSHA to issue an emergency standard on combustible dust, and filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Labor demanding that OSHA follow the 2006 recommendations of the CSB, an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents.

In 2006, the CSB recommended that OSHA issue a rule that would have reduced the possibility of combustible dust explosions.  That year, the CSB conducted a major study of combustible dust hazards, and noted that a quarter of the explosions that occureed between 1980 and 2005 that were identified, occurred at food industry facilities, including sugar refineries.  In only one or two investigations were these incidents caused by mechanical mysteries that were either unforeseen or unpredicted.

Standards and codes have existed for years for OSHA to build upon and eliminate this type of explosion.  In 1987, OSHA issued the Grain Handling Facilities Standard as the result of grain dust explosions in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  This standard has effectively reduced the number and severity of combustible grain dust explosions in the grain handling industry, but stopped short of regulating combustible dust in industries outside of the grain industry.

The UFCW applauds the U.S. House of Representatives for passing legislation to force OSHA to set a combustible dust standard, and urges President Bush to reconsider his veto threat.  OSHA must act now and follow the recommendations of the CSB before more workers are killed or horribly injured.

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The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) represents more than 1.3 million workers, primarily in the retail and meatpacking, food processing and poultry industries. The UFCW protects the rights of workers and strengthens America’s middle class by fighting for health care reform, immigration reform, living wages, retirement security, safe working conditions and the right to unionize so that working men and women and their families can realize the American Dream. For more information about the UFCW’s effort to protect workers’ rights and strengthen America’s middle class, visit www.ufcw.org.

July 21, 2008

UFCW President Announces Aggressive New Health Care Mobilization Project

Washington, D.C. – The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) today pledged to aggressively mobilize its 1.3 million members in support of the newly-formed Health Care for America Now, an unprecedented coalition of organizations across the political spectrum that have come together to call for affordable, quality health care for all Americans.

UFCW International President Joe Hansen announced at the official launch of the historic campaign in Washington, D.C., that the UFCW would join the coalition of allied labor unions, medical associations, small businesses and community groups that have united in response to America’s health care crisis.

“While there may be gridlock in Washington, there is consensus in America,” said Hansen. “The American people want solutions–not sound bites. We need health care for America now.”

The event was part of series of Health Care for American Now launch activities taking place in 52 Cities across the U.S. today, including in 37 state capitals.

UFCW members are at the forefront of the fight for better health care. It is an issue that they strongly advocate for every time they sit down at the bargaining table–and just like most Americans, they believe that working people shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden of health care reform alone.

From 2003 to 2006, President Hansen served as an active member of the congressionally mandated Citizens’ Health Care Working Group. For nearly two years, the group held an unprecedented nationwide dialogue with the American people on the health care system before reporting its findings to the President and Congress.

The report documents a remarkable consensus from the American people on health care reform. Americans want affordable, quality health care coverage for all—and they want it now.

The UFCW has heard America’s call for change and will continue the fight as a proud member of the Health Care for America Now coalition. United, the coalition members will make sure the voices of average Americans are not drowned out in Washington by that of the insurance industry and big business.