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UFCW Pilgrim’s Pride Poultry Workers Travel to Washington, D.C. to Fight for Industry Changes

UFCW Pilgrim’s Pride poultry workers visited Secrectary of Agricultre Tom Vilsack, OSHA, and members of Congress to lobby for better wages and worker safety in the poultry industry.

Last week, 12 Pilgrim’s Pride poultry workers from UFCW Locals 227, 455, 540, 1996, 2008, and RWDSU Mid-South Council traveled to Washington, D.C. to fight for changes in the poultry industry.

Despite the financial success experienced by many poultry companies, poultry workers continue to earn some of the lowest wages and face some of the most dangerous workplaces in the industry. Pilgrim’s Pride workers especially are suffering.

When Pilgrim’s Pride faced bankruptcy back in 2008, the company asked the workers to make concessions to keep their plants viable. Those workers with a union voice on the job were able to protect themselves from the most severe cuts, but had to sacrifice overtime pay and holidays to keep their jobs. The company is now posting record profits but the workers have not seen a raise in over two years, or had the overtime and holidays they gave up returned to them. And, Pilgrim’s Pride is holding workers up at the negotiating table and leaving contracts open.

“We work hard and work full-time and we just can’t make ends meet on these wages. My entire community is centered around the poultry plant. When workers aren’t making decent wages, the whole community suffers because people can’t afford to buy anything,” said Brian Rush, a Pilgrim’s Pride worker from the Batesville, Ark., plant and a member of UFCW Local 2008.

“On these wages, a lot of people can’t even afford to buy the product that they make. If a person makes $9 an hour and a box of chicken is around $60 – it all just doesn’t make sense,” said Carey Stanley, a Pilgrim’s Pride worker from the Live Oak, Fla., plant and a member of UFCW Local 1996.

Pilgrim’s Pride traveled to Washington, D.C. on a mission to tell their stories and educate lawmakers and policymakers about what it’s like to work in the poultry industry. They visited and spoke with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and his staff, ranking members of OSHA, as well as Senators Pryor, Kaine, Bennet, and Stabenow, and several members of the House of Representatives.
At the Department of Agriculture, members told Secretary Vilsack and key staff members about the struggles they face working full-time for a successful company that pays low wages. Workers also pointed out that Pilgrim’s Pride receives almost $75 million in government contracts, and is the second largest government poultry contract in the country. They argued that changes have to be made so that there is some balance and justice between company profits and worker wages.

“I brought my W-2 and my last paycheck to show them that I work 40-hour weeks and last year I made only $18,000. I work hard, my family makes sacrifices, and we are struggling so much,” said Idalid Guerrero, a Pilgrim’s Pride worker from the Lufkin, Texas, plant and a member of UFCW Local 540.

Workers then visited with Assistant Director of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels, Chief of Staff Debbie Berkowitz and additional staff of OSHA. In their meeting, workers discussed safety issues on the job, including dangerous ammonia leaks, the lack of decent medical care at the workplace, and the company not reporting injuries to avoid any lost-time reports.

The lobby day continued with workers visiting senators and representatives on Capitol Hill. There, workers educated members of Congress and their staff on the nature of the poultry industry, how workers are treated, and called for the necessary changes that the industry and union can make to turn poultry jobs into middle class, family supporting jobs. Workers also asked members of Congress to support a new federal study on the poultry industry in order to investigate further into worker wages and workplace conditions and bring the poultry industry issues to attention so that companies will begin to be held accountable and changes can be made.

Check out photos from the Lobby days on our Flckr! (Day 1Day 2)

 

UFCW and Allies Write Open Letter to President Obama and Congress Calling for Stronger Family-Based Immigration Reform

Yesterday, the UFCW, along with a long list of other immigrants’ rights, civil rights, and faith-based organizations, wrote to President Obama and Congress to call for protections of a family-based immigration system in the ongoing fight for immigration reform legislation.

Currently, some members of the senate are writing an immigration bill that would severely limit access to green cards for extended family members of current American citizens. Senator Lindsay Graham, R-SC, who is part of a bipartisan senate committee for immigration reform, “indicated that he would prefer to eliminate” the current immigration clauses that allow citizens to petition for their married children and siblings to be brought to the U.S.

The UFCW, along with countless other organizations, believes that “families belong together”, no matter what their immigration status. Also, we believe that family relationships cannot be summed up by name – aunts and uncles can be just as close to someone as mothers and fathers, and cousins can be like brothers and sisters.  It is unfair that someone be denied a green card simply because their title isn’t included in the traditional nuclear family unit.

Written in the letter to Congress and President Obama, is the fact that “as of November 2012, nearly 4.3 million loved ones are waiting in the family visa backlogs.” Thousands of people from Mexico, China and other Asian countries, and elsewhere around the world have been waiting for years to be reunited with loved ones in the U.S.  Also noted, was the fact that “strengthening the current family-based immigration system is good for our economy and is commonsense policy for the United States.”  Turning away from a family-based system to focus on the economy doesn’t make sense, because, as said in the letter:

“A robust family-based immigration has significant economic benefits, especially for long-term economic growth of the United States. Family-based immigrants foster innovation and development of new businesses, particularly small and medium-sized businesses that would not otherwise exist, creating jobs for American workers and raising revenues for our recovering economy. Families also provide support and care for young children and the elderly, allowing others to focus on building the businesses and contributing to American society.”

UFCW and our allies hope that the President and Congress will uphold the family-based values that America was built on, and do what is right for working America.

UFCW Joins Chicago Rally For Immigration Reform

CHICAGO, ILL. Joe Hansen, International President of the UFCW, today delivered the following statement when joining the AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka, the Chicago Federation of Labor, students, Latino leaders and workers at a major Chicago rally for urgent federal action for comprehensive immigration reform.

President Hansen’s statement follows:

“Now is the time to pass comprehensive immigration reform – not next year or the year after but right now.  We can no longer accept an immigration system that breaks up families, harasses workers, and deports people who are simply trying to achieve the American Dream.  We can no longer be a nation that turns away aspiring citizens.

“For centuries, immigrants have come to America’s shores with the dream of making a better life for themselves and their families — from Ellis Island to the Florida Keys to the Rio Grande.  But for today’s immigrants, this dream has become a nightmare. Young adults who were brought here as children and have grown up in America—the Dreamers—still do not have a clear path to citizenship.  Workers face discrimination, abuse, retaliation, and sometimes worse.  Families are unable to reunite.

“Our immigration system is obviously broken. But worse than that, it flies in the face of our values as a nation.  So we must reform it.    No one is better to lead that reform than the labor movement.  It is the workers we represent who are most victimized by our current immigration system.

“For the UFCW, this issue hits close to home.  We remember the ICE raids in 2006 where our members were treated like criminals.  We remember hearing the stories of workers terrorized just for doing their jobs.

“Other unions have suffered similar experiences, as Wild West immigration enforcement has become the rule instead of the exception.  So as a movement, we are as united as ever to make comprehensive immigration reform the law of the land.

“The UFCW is joining our allies in the labor movement and in our communities to mobilize our members in support immigration reform that includes:

  • A road map to citizenship for those already here
  • An effective mechanism for determining employment eligibility
  • Smart and humane border enforcement
  • Streamlined family reunification
  • A fair process for allocating employment based visas

“But most of all, we want an immigration system that gives immigrants hope, not fear.  We want to be a nation that builds dreams, not border fences.  We want the families of immigrants to be united, not divided.  We want immigrant workers to have rights, not wrongs.

“America has always prided itself on being a country where anyone who is willing to work hard and pursue their dreams can find success.   We must live up to that ideal. We must pass comprehensive immigration reform.”

 

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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, 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, http://www.ufcw.org/, or join our online community at http://www.facebook.com/ufcwinternational and  www.twitter.com/UFCW