On the Picket Line

Meatpackers fight for union at two plants in southeast Iowa

By Helen Meyers
May 29, 2023

COLUMBUS JUNCTION, Iowa — Workers at the Tyson Foods pork processing plant here and at West Liberty Foods, owned by Iowa Turkey Cooperatives, have begun union organizing drives with United Food and Commercial Workers union Local 431. The 1,400 workers at Tyson cut up 10,000 hogs a day. There are 600 workers at the turkey plant.

Socialist Workers Party members went to the Tyson plant at a shift change May 6 to discuss what workers there face. We met workers from Mexico and other Latin American countries, and from Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Liberia and Myanmar. While many indicated they support the union, including a few who said they had signed cards, most didn’t want to speak about the drive. Some said they do not support the union.

We also knocked on doors in neighborhoods near the plant. While no worker wanted to be quoted for fear of retaliation by the bosses, many described speedup, too few people on the production lines, months of forced Saturday overtime and discrimination toward immigrants by the bosses. There are anti-union signs posted in the plant.

In 2021, when immigrants in the area were denied pandemic relief aid, some workers organized with the community-based group Escucha Mi Voz (Hear My Voice). They succeeded in winning benefits. This has given confidence to the effort to organize a union with the help of the UFCW and Escucha Mi Voz.

Tyson is the second-largest meatpacker in the world and has the highest injury rate of all meatpacking companies in the U.S.