Watch United Food and Commercial Workers International Union’s (UFCW) Michelle show you how to create your own bouquet—great a DIY Valentine’s gift, romantic gesture, or home decor.
February 26, 2018
Black History Month: how the push for fair treatment in a Texas poultry plant changed the health and safety standards of an industry
Union organizing efforts won significant benefits for meatpacking workers during the first half of the 20th century. In 1960, before a wave of automation and rapid restructuring would decimate jobs in the industry, meatpacking wages were 15 percent above the average wage for manufacturing workers in the United States. But one area where change was slow to come was in the poultry industry. Unlike other jobs in meatpacking, a much higher percentage of poultry workers were African American women in the anti-union South.
A reasonable request
In 1953, Clara Holder, an East Texas poultry worker, wrote to Patrick Gorman, Secretary Treasurer of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workman of America (a union that would later merge with the Retail Clerks Union to become the UFCW in 1979). She and her coworkers were fed up with the exploitation and unhealthy practices they witnessed on the job and had decided to form a union to better conditions at the plant.
“I was told to contact your office to secure help in organizing a much needed plant,” Miss Holder wrote. “The majority of the workers are eager to organize, if only they had some advice from a bonafide labor union. Would you kindly inform me if your organization can help us.” Clara Holder’s brief and innocently worded letter sparked a tortuous organizing campaign — in Center, Texas — that stirred racial and class tensions, triggered a national boycott, and persuaded the union to launch a successful drive to reform the entire American poultry industry. – The Texas “Sick Chicken” Strike, 1950s by George N. Green
Demands for better conditions spark violence and ignite racial tensions
What started out as a politely worded letter, boiled over into open violence as the strike touched off racial tensions that had been simmering beneath the surface of the small town:
As in most East Texas towns. the white citizens of Center were angered by the desegregation decision of the U.S. Supreme Court (on May I, 1954). Coming on the heels of a strike by blacks, this decision stirred endemic hatreds. Thus, while white strikers seem to have been regarded as curiosities. black picketers were resented. Just after the Eastex strike began, [Meat Cutters’ District Vice-President Sam Twedell] claimed that he was summoned to the county district attorney’s office. There, in the presence of the sheriff, Twedell said he was ordered to “get those goddamn N*****s off the picket line or some of them are gonna get killed.” Twedell refused. On May 20 he sent telegrams to the FBI and the FCC concerning a broadcast on KDET radio, a strongly anti-union station, which “openly advocated violence, as a result of Supreme Court decision … and other racial problems, if Negro pickets were not removed from the picket lines.” Station manager Tom Foster explained that his announcer merely had stated that “Twedell himself was advocating trouble by ordering Negro and white pickets to walk the picket line together. Hancock [the announcer} said that may be common practice in Chicago [location of the union’s international headquarters], but we are not ready for that here.” Foster, according to one of his friends, was extremely anti-union and simply looking for an angle of attack. Twedell began walking the line with the black picketers.
On May 9 organizer Allen Williams prophetically reported that “We are sitting on a keg of dynamite … I honestly think our lives are in danger … These bastards will stop at nothing, including murder, if they think there is half a chance to get away with it.” On the night of July 23 a time bomb explosion destroyed Williams’ Ford. A fire which resulted as an after-effect of the detonation completely leveled two cabins of the tourist court where Williams was residing and did extensive damage to two other buildings. Fortunately, Williams had stayed out later than usual on the night of the bombing and thus escaped injury. The would-be assassins were never apprehended and, according to his reports in the next few weeks, Williams held some doubts that law enforcement officers seriously sought to find them. Remarking on the openly anti-union sentiments of a majority of the members of a grand jury investigating the bombing, Williams jokingly explained that he felt some fear of being indicted for the crime himself. A second bombing occurred near the black “quarters” in Center on August 12. Though the August bombing scared the black strikers, Williams observed that they weren’t showing it openly.
Neither of the two banks, whose presidents were directors of the Center Development Foundation, extended credit to their fellow townfolk on strike. But the Meat Cutters paid regular benefits through the duration of the conflict and also conducted a highly successful nationwide clothing drive for the strikers. So much clothing was received from the locals that it actually became necessary for President Jimerson to request members to halt the donations.”– The Texas “Sick Chicken” Strike, 1950s by George N. Green
Resulting wins and establishment of poultry inspections
Donald D.Stull and Michael J. Broadway wrote about the struggle to organize and how it led to the inspection of poultry and better health and safety standards for the industry in the book From Slaughterhouse Blues: The Meat and Poultry Industry in North America:
Organizing efforts in the poultry industry lagged behind those in meatpacking: it is a newer industry; its plants were located in the rural South, long known for anti-union sentiment; and it drew heavily on African American women to work its lines. In Jun 1953, poultry workers in the East Texas town of Center asked the Amalgamated Meat Cutters to help them organize. At the time, poultry workers were paid the minimum wage of 75 cents an hour; they worked 10 or 11 hours a day in filthy conditions without overtime pay, and their employers denied them grievance procedures, seniority, and paid holidays. Center’s two poultry plants — one staffed by black workers, the other by whites — voted to join the union. When the companies refused to negotiate in good faith, the Amalgamated Meat Cutters organized a national boycott of plant products, and the workers staged wildcat strikes.
At the time, less than a quarter of the poultry sold in the United States was federally inspected, and neither of the Center plants employed inspectors. With the support of its 500 locals and the endorsement of the AFL-CIO, the Amalgamated Meat Cutters organized a national campaign to mandate federal inspection of poultry. Subsequent
congressional hearings revealed that one-third of known cases of food poisoning could be traced to poultry. Despite opposition from the poultry industry and the U.S.Department of Agriculture, which oversees meat inspection, a poultry inspection bill eventually passed Congress. In August 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Poultry Products Inspection Act, which requires compulsory inspection of all poultry that crosses state lines of is sold overseas.
And what of the striking workers? Eastex, the plant that employed only black workers, settled after 11 months, agreeing to wage increases, time-and-a-half overtime pay, three paid holidays and vacations, a grievance procedure, and reinstatement of strikers. Eastex subsequently sold out to Holly Farms, which later sold out to Tyson.
February 23, 2018
The UFCW Charity Foundation is currently accepting applications for it’s 2018 scholarship, and we wanted to take the opportunity to report back on where a few of our past year’s winners are and all the exciting things they have going on in their lives. Last August, we spoke with Jennifer Archuleta, scholarship winner from 2010.
“The UFCW scholarship made it possible for me to attend my preferred college even though it was located hundreds of miles away from home. It also allowed me to spend more time studying and less time working.”
– 2010 Scholarship Winner Jennifer Archuleta
The scholarships are open to both UFCW members and their families. Was it you or a family member that was a UFCW member?
My dad is a UFCW member who has worked at Albertson’s for over two decades. He recently became a union representative.
Did you find the UFCW scholarship helpful?
Yes. The UFCW scholarship made it possible for me to attend my preferred college even though it was located hundreds of miles away from home. It also allowed me to spend more time studying and less time working.
Do you remember how you found out about the scholarship?
My older siblings received the UFCW scholarship. When it was my turn to apply I looked for information in the UFCW newsletters as well as the website.
What did you end up studying?
My degree is in Music Education with a concentration in violin.
What do you think was the most valuable thing personally to you about going to school?
The university provided an intellectually stimulating setting that challenged me on an academic and personal level. I learned a lot about my major, but I learned more about life, and even more about myself.
What do you do now?
I am a kindergarten through fifth grade music teacher.
What’s your favorite part about your job?
I love singing and playing with children. I love nurturing a child’s musical, academic, and emotional growth from their first day of elementary school until their last.
What type of music do you like and what instruments you play?
I am a violinist. While attending the University of North Texas I had the opportunity to perform in their orchestra, choir, jazz ensembles, and opera pit.
What’s one fun thing you’ve learned or been able to experience recently?
I recently became certified in the Kodály teaching method, and celebrated by road tripping across the California coast with my sister. We went hiking, swimming in the ocean, and watched a dog surfing competition.
If you are a past year scholarship winner, let us know what you are up to! We’d love to feature you and your accomplishments.
February 18, 2018
Start Saving Today
Did you know your UFCW membership gives you access to a number of money saving coupons and discounts? Right now, UFCW members can save up to $20 on TurboTax Federal Products or 15% off at TaxACT.
February 15, 2018
Earlier this Black History Month, we wrote about Russell Lasley of United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA), one of the most progressive champions for civil rights in the labor movement during the 1950s and 1960s. Lasley was instrumental in the development and implementation of the anti-discrimination programs of the UPWA. This week, we pay tribute to Addie Wyatt, another leader who got her start through union activism at the UPWA and continued her fight for workers’ rights during the height of the American Feminist Movement.
Addie Loraine Cameron, better known as Addie L. Wyatt (1924 –2012), was born in Mississippi and moved to Chicago with her family in 1930. When she was 17 years old, she began working in the meatpacking industry. Although she applied for a job as a typist for Armour and Company, African American women were barred from holding clerical positions at the time. Instead, she was sent to the canning department to pack stew in cans for the army.
Due to a contract between Armour and the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA), she ending up earned more working on the packinghouse floor canning stew than she would have made working as a typist, and joined the UPWA after learning that the union did not discriminate against its members.
“I was impressed,” said Wyatt in an interview with Alice Bernstein in 2005. “How could two young black women meet with two white bosses and achieve the success that we had achieved at that time? I was told that it was because of the union. It was a violation of the union contract…I was really moved to the extent that I wanted to do something to help this union. I didn’t know what the union was. But I know that I needed help and here was the place that I could get that help. I knew that I wanted to help other workers, and I found out that I could help them by joining with them and making the union strong and powerful enough to bring about change.”
Rising Through the Ranks
In 1953, she was elected vice president of UPWA Local 56. In 1954, she became the first woman president of the local, and was soon tapped to serve as an international representative. She held this position through the 1968 merger of UPWA and the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen until 1974, when she became director of the newly formed Women’s Affairs Department.
In 1970s, she became the first female international vice president in the history of the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen and later served as director of its Human Rights and Women’s Affairs and Civil Rights Departments. She served as the first female African American international vice president of the UFCW after Amalgamated and the Retail Clerks International Union merged in 1979.
A Leader in the Civil Rights Movement
Wyatt and her husband were ordained ministers and founded the Vernon Park Church of God in Chicago. She played an integral role in the civil rights movement, and joined Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in major civil rights marches, including the March on Washington, the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and the demonstration in Chicago. She was one of the founders of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the country’s only national organization for union women. She was also a founding member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and the National Organization of Women.
In honor of her work, she was named one of Time magazine′s Women of the Year in 1975, and one of Ebony magazine′s 100 most influential black Americans from 1980 to 1984. The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists established the Addie L. Wyatt Award in 1987. In 1984, Addie Wyatt retired from the labor movement as one of its highest ranked and most prominent African American and female officials. She was inducted into the Department of Labor’s Hall of Honor in 2012.
February 15, 2018
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union, issued the following statement regarding the White House asking Congress for $30 million this year to test the “America’s Harvest Box” proposal in President Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget. This proposal would significantly change the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps).
“Whether you are Republican or Democrat, pro-union or not, shop at a big grocery store or a small local co-op, ‘America’s Harvest Box’ is one of the worst policy proposals ever made to address hunger and poverty. It will further worsen the economic divide across the country and must be stopped for the sake of the better America we all believe in.
“The harvest box proposal punishes the poor, removes significant sales from local grocery stores, and needlessly puts millions of good grocery store jobs at risk of being eliminated.
“The grocery stores our members work in are often the largest employers in their communities, and provide the wages and benefits necessary for hard-working families to build and live better lives.”
The UFCW is the largest private sector union in the United States, representing 1.3 million professionals and their families in grocery stores, meatpacking, food processing, retail shops and other industries.
Our members help put food on our nation’s tables and serve customers in all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Learn more about the UFCW at www.ufcw.org.
February 13, 2018
Congratulations and welcome to some of our newest UFCW members, the hardworking men and women at Severance Foods, Inc. in Hartford, Connecticut. The roughly 50 workers at Severance Foods manufacture a large variety of tortilla chips that are distributed worldwide.
“We voted to unionize to get better benefits, sick days, better safety equipment and raises,” said Jan Paul Calo, who works for Severance Foods and was among those who wanted to improve their jobs and help everyone who works there on the path to a better life and a better future for their families.
On Jan. 31, members of UFCW Local 371, along with elected officials and community allies, stood in solidarity with the Severance Foods workers as they prepared to cast their votes in a secret ballot election to join our union. Organizers used Hustle, the innovative texting app, to reach out to workers at Severance Foods, as well as to coordinate the rally before the vote.
February 13, 2018
Looking to further your education? The UFCW Charity Foundation Scholarship is now accepting applications from UFCW members and their families.
Every year the UFCW Charity Foundation scholarship program offers scholarships to UFCW members or their immediate family members who want to further their education and demonstrate a commitment to their communities and to UFCW values. Since 1958, the fund has distributed more than $2 million in scholarships.
Past winners have gone on to make significant contributions to society and to the UFCW – entering a range of fields including public service, medicine, law, business and teaching. Many have returned to the UFCW as staffers, organizers, and community activists who contribute to our mission.
February 13, 2018
February 8, 2018
As with many holidays, the members of our hard-working union family help make Valentine’s Day happen for members of their communities and people across the country.
One example is Rob Peters, a member of UFCW Local 1776 and a Wine Specialist at Fine Wine & Good Spirits store 4646 in Ardmore, Pa.
“When it comes to Valentine’s Day, I always recommend sparkling wine because it is popular, versatile and celebratory, i.e. ‘pop the cork,’” he said. “Sparkling wine can be used at any time before, during or after dinner.”
There are many varieties of sparkling wine, but Rob recommends sparkling wines from California, Prosecco from Italy, or the classic: champagne from France.
On the West Coast, Becky S. at See’s candy has been a member of UFCW Local 5 since 2002. Now an assistant store manager, Becky’s experience is put to good use during one of her store’s busiest times of year–Valentine’s Day.
“We serve anywhere from 200 to 600 people a day,” she said.
Despite the hectic work day, Becky always has a smile on her face. For folks looking to buy a sweet treat for a special someone this Valentine’s Day, Becky recommends getting one of See’s pre-filled 1-pound heart boxes if you’re in a hurry, or using their handy candy menu (also found at sees.com) to hand select each individual chocolate inside.
“It’s a great idea to purchase one of our beautiful 1-pound boxes because they are reusable and you can bring them in again next year,” she said.
UFCW members also have access to exclusive discounts for Valentine’s Day. You can save 25 percent on flowers and gifts from Teleflora. Get more information here and make someone’s Valentine’s Day special.
February 6, 2018
This Black History month, we celebrate the life and legacy of United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA) Vice-President Russell R. Lasley (1914-1989). Lasley was an officer in UPWA Local 46 in Waterloo, Iowa. He got his start working at The Rath Packing Co. and rose to become one of the central figures in the American civil rights movement. Lasley was a vice president of the international union for more than 20 years, remaining after the UPWA merged with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen where he became director of the merged union’s civil rights department.
The United Packinghouse Workers of America was one of the most progressive champions for civil rights in the labor movement during the 1950s and 1960s. Formed in 1943, the union began pursuing anti-discrimination activities in 1949 and formed an anti-discrimination department in 1950. The UPWA required every union local to have an anti-discrimination department, and the national union headquarters made certain that the local departments had their own programs in the meatpacking plants and communities.
Together with the union, Lasley fought against housing discrimination in Chicago, according to labor historian Michael Honey of the University of Washington-Tacoma. “He was trying to open up housing for black families in white neighborhoods,” Honey said. “When one home was surrounded and fire bombed, the union brought people out to try to defend the black homeowner. The Packinghouse Workers union was extraordinary. It probably was one of the few unions where whites would really come out and support black civil rights.”
In addition to helping organize a march for voting rights on the nation’s capital in 1957 and forming defense committees to provide protection for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he came under attack, the UPWA also played a key role in the formation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was a group of southern churches and clergy who together coordinated protests and demonstrations in the wake of the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Lasley attended the founding meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in January 1957, calling it ‘‘an extreme honor and privilege to represent UPWA in a conference of leaders who have dedicated their lives to the cause of freedom and the establishment of a society free of racial injustice and second class citizenship.”
In addition to continually organizing conferences and legislative actions in support of equal rights for women and minorities, the UPWA donated 80 percent of the cost of SCLC’s first year budget and held regular drives to raise money for sit ins and freedom rides. “I guess the Southern Christian Leadership Conference would not have existed without the Packinghouse Workers union,” said King scholar Clayborne Carson, professor of history and director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University in California.
Ever a visionary, in his address to the members of the UPWA at their 1962 convention in Minneapolis, Minnesota, King warned that the advances of technology were outpacing government’s ability to find creative solutions to the threats to workers they posed. His warnings were prophetic- facing enormous job losses in the packinghouses after automation shook the foundations of the meat-packing industry, the UPWA’s remaining membership merged with the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen in 1968. The Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen would later go on to merge with the Retail Clerks International Union in 1979 and form what today is the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.
Excerpts from Dr. Martin Luther King’s Address to the United Packinghouse Workers of AmericaMay 21, 1962
The United Packinghouse Workers of America has set an example for every democratic organization in the nation. Indeed, if labor as a whole, if the administration in Washington, matched your concern and your deeds, the civil rights problem would not be a burning national shame, but a problem long solved and in its solution a luminous accomplishment in the best tradition of American principles.
In the early days of organization of our Southern Christian Leadership Conference, you employed the shop collection to raise significant funds for us. As we continued our struggles for human dignity, you remained a constant supporter in some of our darkest hours when the most savage elements among our adversaries took control.
Your dependable help was like a mighty fortress protecting us. Your aid, however, went beyond money. When various city and state officials of the state of Alabama, in abuse of legitimate judicial process, instituted a series of libel suits against us in an attempt to wreck our leadership, you provided brilliant legal aid through your union council to strengthen our defense.
The debt we owe you is great, and we cannot repay you today, but our memory is long and our gratitude is lasting, and when the day comes when we have won victories enough to have some surplus strength, it will be yours to command.
Another proud distinction your union possesses is its record of dealing with discrimination internally. In the last analysis, this is an acid test. It is not easy and it is rarely accomplished completely because the whole of our society is pulsing with racism, but the steps you have taken are longer and more decisive than others can boast. Indeed, though I am no historian of labor, I feel safe in saying that even within the CIO tradition where discrimination was fought with conscious purpose your record is the best. In America today this is the highest expression of patriotism and moral responsibility.
It is never easy to pioneer, but you did it while organizing a powerful industry whose abuses of public welfare were so extreme that they became a legend recorded in our literature by Upton Sinclair in his book The Jungle. That jungle was finally cleared and civilized by legislation and the adoption of socially responsible practices.
However, today a new jungle is creeping back, swallowing up and nullifying the achievements of the past, and this new jungle is not a wilderness of nature. It has the shining glittering face of science. It consists of the negative effects of automation and the runaway shop.
Both of these are destroying your jobs, changing your lives, while plays to counteract their destructive effects are either inadequate or nonexistent….
As machines replace men, we must again question whether the depth of our social thinking matches the growth of technological creativity. We cannot create machines which revolutionize industry unless we simultaneously create ideas commensurate with social and economic reorganization, which harness the power of such machines for the benefit of man….The new age will not be an era of hope but of fear and emptiness unless we master this problem….
Like you, we are deeply concerned with minimum wages, with social security, with health measures. We, along with you, want housing fit for families to live in happily and comfortably. Like you, we want job certainty in our working days and retirement security when we grow old. A society as dynamic as ours can provide these things if it is as flexible and inventive as the science which is such a vital part of it….
Years ago, it became a proud boast of the packing industry that by the application of science no part of the animal was wasted. “Everything but the squeal of the pig” was converted into a socially useful product. It is fair to say that if this could be done by one industry with pigs, all of society should seem capable of progress without wasting any people! This is the achievable test of the new age.
We will have no fear of the future if we master together the task of the present. So much that we have already done together proves that in going further and strengthening our ties we will inevitably enrich the lives of all of us, bringing democratic dynamism into the political bloodstream of the nation. Lest we forget, the men who established our country were in the main ordinary people – but they had an extraordinary dream that all problems could be solved by united action; by participation of all upon an equal basis.
They called their dream democracy. Nearly two hundred years later, if we now faithfully develop and practice democracy, transforming it into living reality for all of our citizens, it will fashion a new era of abundance in material and moral riches.