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Anti-Worker Intimidation Campaign Thwarts Union Vote

April 23, 2009 Updated: August 24, 2020

(Wilson, N.C.)— Seeking dignity, respect, and a union voice on the job, and inspired by workers at Smithfield’s Tar Heel, N.C. plant, workers at Smithfield’s Wilson N.C. plant began a grassroots campaign for UFCW representation in January. On a daily basis, dozens of workers handbilled their co-workers, discussed issues in the break room and parking lot, and signed up the vast majority of employees who wanted union representation.  Workers also earned the support of dozens of community and religious leaders, including the NC NAACP.

Although the vast majority of the 550 workers signed cards indicating they wanted to be represented by the UFCW, the company demanded workers hold an election. Before the election could be held, Smithfield reverted back to the anti-worker approach they had used for many years in Tar Heel—threatening, harassing and firing people to intimidate and divide Wilson workers to keep them from coming together for a voice on the job.

The company called the police to harass workers and union organizers who were legally handbilling on public property.

They told off-duty employees that they were not allowed to distribute handbills in the employee parking lot—even though workers do have this right.

They forced workers to attend meetings at work where supervisors spread misinformation about the union.

They fired at least two vocal union supporters during the drive.

Smithfield’s behavior underscores the need to pass the Employee Free Choice Act—legislation which would let workers choose how they join a union—through signing cards, or through an election. The legislation would hold employers accountable when they use dirty, illegal tactics to intimidate workers into voting no. If Employee Free Choice were law, Wilson workers could have chosen freely, without enduring a pressure campaign on the job every day.