The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 67/No. 19           June 9, 2003  
Strikers take their fight to
fellow Tyson meat packers
(front page)
CHEROKEE, Iowa—Strikers in Jefferson, Wisconsin, are entering their fourth month of picketing against meat giant Tyson Foods. They are members of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 538.

In phone interviews, Scott Howard and Linda Kolodzne reported that their co-workers are not demoralized and want to stick this fight out to the end. According to Howard, none of the workers have crossed the picket line. Kolodzne said that even though there are scabs in the plant, there is a very high turnover, especially on the sanitation crew. She said that the company is using a room at the Holiday Inn in Watertown, Wisconsin, 15 miles from Jefferson to hire scabs. The strikers and others are organizing informational picket lines at the hotel.

In addition, strikers and their supporters are picketing a hiring agency called QPS in Greenfield, Wisconsin, which is also being used by the company to hire scabs.

Kolodzne stated that even though scabs are also being bussed into Jefferson from Chicago, there are fewer on the busses than previously.

Meat packers in the region continue to organize union solidarity with these fighters. During the week of May 19-25, members of Local 271 at the Swift meatpacking plant in Omaha took up an in-house collection for the strikers. Some $250 was donated to the strike fund.

On Saturday, May 24, UFCW Local 179 organized a benefit/dance in Cherokee, Iowa, for the Tyson strikers. Cherokee is the site of another Tyson factory, where the contract expires next March. This is considered the sister plant of the one in Jefferson. Workers here think that what happens in Jefferson will have an impact on their contract negotiations.

Manuel Tejada, 36, a production worker with two and a half years in the plant, originally from El Salvador, attended the benefit. “We are supporting Jefferson strikers tonight,” he said. “But we are also preparing ourselves because our contract is up in March 2004 and we know it will be a fight to win a new contract we can accept. Alone, I am pretty sure that they can’t win. But if all the locals pitch in, I know they can win.”

Lyle Martin, 72, is a retired Tyson worker with more than 29 years in the plant here. He said that in Cherokee, like in Jefferson, pensions are in the cross-hairs of Tyson. “Because of the completely inadequate health insurance for retirees, I lost my entire life savings in four days to pay bills for a serious medical complication,” Martin stated. “If they eliminate my pension, I will lose my house, which is all I have to show for all those years of work. They say this is a free country. Don’t tell me this is freedom.”

Tyson’s takeback demands at the Jefferson facility include a two-tier wage scale cutting hourly rates for new hires from $11.09 to $9, and freezing pay for others over a four-year period; eliminating pensions for new hires and freezing benefits for the rest; increasing health-care premiums by as much as $40 a week and eliminating health-care supplements for retirees; cutting back sick leave and disability benefits by more than half; reducing vacations; eliminating two paid holidays for new hires; taking away the right to severance pay if the plant closes; and ending a profit-sharing program.

In a letter to the editor of the Cherokee newspaper The Chronicle-Times, Tyson worker Troy Chindlund wrote, “Even though our current contract doesn’t expire for a little under a year, and our wages and benefits are currently the same, John Tyson’s intent to reduce our pay, eliminate our pensions, and slash our benefits, is quite clear to all of us. We can hear this train coming down the tracks.”

Kolodzne and others attended an Interfaith Conference of clergy in Washington, D.C. May 18-19 to get out the word about their strike. She said that they urged those in attendance to become part of the Adopt-A-Family program, which helps workers pay their bills during the walkout.

Howard said that strikers traveled to Phoenix, Arizona, to a Pizza Hut convention to urge the chain not to use Tyson pepperoni on its product.

Both strikers told the Militant that another solidarity rally was being planned for June 22 in Jefferson. They are urging people to come to show support to the strike.

Edwin Fruit is a member of UFCW Local 1149 and is a production worker at the IBP/Tyson in Perry, Iowa. Lisa Rottach, a UFCW member in Omaha, Nebraska; and Jenny Benton, a member of UFCW Local 789 at Dakota Premium Foods in South St. Paul, Minnesota, contributed to this article.  
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