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Vol. 72/No. 11      March 17, 2008

Minnesota meat packers start
negotiating new contract
(front page)
SOUTH ST PAUL, Minnesota—“We’re just asking to be treated right, for them to do the right thing,” said Lucy Aguilar, a boning worker at the Dakota Premium Foods slaughterhouse here, referring to contract negotiations with the company. “They make like it’s an offense, an attack on them.”

Aguilar’s comments were featured in the new issue of the Workers’ Voice, the newsletter of the members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 789 at Dakota Premium Foods.

Contract negotiations began February 29. They were the first talks since the 250 workers here voted January 25 by almost two to one against a company-backed campaign to decertify their union. The company began its attack on the UFCW two weeks before the previous contract expired in June.

On the day negotiations restarted some workers showed their support by passing out bright yellow or grey union T-shirts that say in Spanish “Fight for a better contract” and “UNION YES! íSí SE PUEDE!” (Yes we can). Several workers put the T-shirts on, joining those who had already worn them to work.

Fifteen unionists, including workers from the plant and from the company’s cold storage unit in nearby Newport, sat across the negotiating table from three company representatives.

According to the Workers’ Voice, company representatives complained about union grievances and what they called the “daily” Workers’ Voice.

The workers’ newsletter answered: “Apparently our newsletter has so affected management they believe it comes out every day… . We’ll continue to talk about their firings, abuses, racist practices, our injuries, and violations of our rights. They don’t want workers informed and involved. The Workers’ Voice is our organizer. We will use it to fight for justice and demand respect.”

The Workers’ Voice went on to point out the two main issues that workers are fighting over in their new contract—wages and line speed. In earlier negotiations the company had offered a raise of 15 cents an hour with a 10 cent bonus for perfect attendance. “That’s an insult,” said the Workers’ Voice. It went on, “As prices of bread, milk, gasoline, and other things rise (Gasoline is expected to hit $4.00 a gallon this summer!) our checks are worth less and less.”

On line speed the Workers’ Voice said, “Injuries come from working too fast, with bad equipment and no time to sharpen knives, change gloves, etc. As worker after worker has made clear, we must fight for more control of the line speed and fight for enough workers to do the job.”

Along with contract negotiations workers and union staff are discussing how to better organize themselves to answer the ongoing company offensive, including an increase in firings and other disciplinary actions. Many of these have been aimed at well-known union fighters in the plant and a disproportionate number of Black workers have been targeted.

Rebecca Williamson is a member of UFCW Local 789 and works in the boning department at Dakota Premium Foods.  
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