BY MAGGIE TROWE AND SIMONE BERG
TAMA, Iowa - Nine workers at Tama Packing, a division of agribusiness giant IBP, were arrested by agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) January 13, as they drove out of the plant parking lot. Seven of those detained are adults and will be deported, an INS spokesperson said, while two were juveniles who were returned to their families.
The arrests took place just days after workers at the plant had carried out job actions demanding an increase of the base rate of pay. Diego and Gerardo, two workers these reporters spoke with outside the plant who asked that their real names not be used, described what happened.
The 400 workers, who are organized by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, stayed in the cafeteria at the end of the lunch break January 8, demanding that the company raise the base rate paid to experienced workers. A recent $1 an hour raise given to new hires had brought the starting rate to $8. After about two hours, company representatives said they would meet with leaders of the sit-down protest to discuss their demands if everyone would return to work. At that point the workers went back to their jobs.
The next morning union members held a 5 a.m. meeting before work at a cattle auction barn near the plant. Diego said Tama police showed up at that meeting to intimidate workers. Company management told the workers they would give them no raise. Later that morning, after the first break, most workers stayed sitting in the cafeteria again instead of returning to work. Management then called the police, and told workers that if they didn't return to work, they would be considered trespassers, subject to arrest.
Some of the protesters returned to work, but others stayed. About 15 deputy sheriffs arrived and expelled a number of workers from the plant. They cited ten for trespassing, and arrested one, Adolfo García, who was later released on bail.
Five days later on January 13, INS cops in cars and a bus stationed themselves outside the plant in the early afternoon. They stopped selected cars. According to INS spokesman Gerard Noland, Tama police had given the immigration cops a list of 14 workers. The INS detained nine workers. When these reporters arrived at 3:30 p.m., there were more than eight police cars at or near the plant.
Some workers from the kill floor who had gotten off early returned to the plant at 5 p.m. to make sure workers coming out at that time didn't run into problems.
A waitress at a nearby restaurant said that INS agents who had stopped in earlier in the day told her they were coming to Tama Packing because workers had "made all that trouble with their sit-down strike."
Workers at the Swift packinghouse in nearby Marshalltown expressed support for the strikers. At least two Swift workers had relatives arrested by the INS.
Maggie Trowe and Simone Berg are members of Local 1149 of
the United Food and Commercial Workers.
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home