St. Paul meat packers’ union vote is upheld
NLRB certifies workers’ decision to join UFCW
BY RAMONA BLACK
ST. PAUL, Minnesota--In a union victory at the Dakota Premium Foods slaughterhouse here, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has certified the representation election held last July, ruling against the company’s charges of unfair practices by the union.
Last July workers at the meatpacking plant voted 112–71 to join United Food and Commercial Workers Local 789 after a seven-week organizing drive that began with a sit-down strike to protest conditions in the plant, especially the increase in line speed.
Rosen’s Diversified Inc., which owns Dakota Premium Foods, filed charges with the NLRB to overturn the election. The bosses claimed the union had agents working in the plant who intimidated and pressured workers into voting for the union and promised thousands of dollars and work permits to the mostly immigrant workforce if they backed the union. The company went so far as to assert that union supporters threatened to turn other workers in to the immigration cops if they didn’t support the unionization drive.
In her 64-page ruling, Susan Shaughnessy, hearing officer for NLRB Region 18, rejected the company claims. "I conclude that employer’s objections...are without merit, and I recommend, therefore, that they be overruled in their entirety," she stated.
Workers in the boning and kill departments learned of the ruling at break-time meetings called by company vice president Esteban Cortinas.
"Cortinas didn’t announce whether the union had won or lost. He talked in circles, I think on purpose, to confuse people," said Miguel Olvera, a boning worker and leader of the fight for a union at Dakota Premium Foods. "Cortinas looked like he was going to cry," said kill floor worker José Estrada. "He said the company wanted to take this to a higher court."
A dozen workers went to Local 789’s hall after work to discuss the NLRB decision and the next steps forward.
The NLRB finally "recognized what we had already won," said Olvera. "Now we can take the next step forward. We were being held back, and some people were feeling demoralized. We have to rekindle the energy that people had."
"Now we’ve got to get everyone together and ask for the contract that we all want," said Enrique Flores, a kill-floor worker.
Local 789’s Communications Committee planned a meeting the following day to organize a general membership meeting of Dakota Premium Food workers as soon as possible, said Local 789 union representative Francisco Picado.
A new issue of the Workers’ Voice, the union’s paper produced and distributed by workers, explaining the NLRB decision is planned for the following day as well, Picado said.
Workers’ Voice is also distributed in Long Prairie Packing, another beef slaughterhouse owned by Rosen’s Diversified in Minnesota. The 300 workers there are also members of UFCW Local 789.
Union members at this plant have been defending their union against company harassment and intimidation, and discussing their fight together with workers at Dakota Premium.