Tyson Decert Try Foiled By Teamster Reformers
Teamster reformers have beaten back a campaign by Tyson Foods to decertify the union representing 1,500 meatpackers at its Pasco, Washington plant. In balloting conducted by the NLRB on April 8 and 9, members voted 708 to 657 to keep Teamsters Local 556 as their bargaining agent.
The tight union victory came despite a heavily-financed company campaign that included massive legal violations. Tyson shipped in more than a dozen managers to interrogate and coerce union supporters in round-the-clock captive audience meetings. Tyson manager’s tactics were guided by a 34-page company manual on union busting.
The day before the vote, supervisors tore “Union Yes!” stickers off of workers’ helmets throughout the plant. “The company tried to take away our union and our voice, but we stuck together,” said Maria “Gaby” Lopez, a union activist in the processing department.
This was the second company-sponsored decertification attempt at a Tyson plant this year. In February, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 538 accused Tyson managers of illegally helping organize a decertification effort at its Jefferson, Wisconsin processing plant to force an end to the 11-month strike there.
TYSON FIGHTS DIRTY
The union victory marked the end of a two-year management campaign that began as an effort to oust Local 556 leaders in the 2002 local union election.
In 2002, President Maria Martinez’s Respect & Dignity Slate defeated the management-supported candidate with 70 percent of the vote, despite the fact that management barred Martinez from the plant leading up to the election.
Management then assisted the defeated candidate, Carlos Perez, in gathering signatures on a decertification petition. After Perez submitted the petition, he was promoted to supervisor.
The NLRB postponed the decertification vote while it investigated numerous charges of illegal management support of the decert effort. In March, Local 556 withdrew its charges to allow the vote to proceed.
“Members wanted this vote before contract negotiations began so management couldn’t use the issue as a distraction,” said Martinez. “The victory means that Local 556 members and the company can focus on negotiating a new contract.”
HEALTH AND SAFETY
The Local 556 victory at Tyson came the same day that OSHA fined the company $436,000 following an investigation into the asphyxiation death of a worker at an animal feed plant in Arkansas.
The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries fined Tyson $61,500 last year after a Local 556 member had his arm cut off in a hock cutter after the company tampered with the machine’s safety mechanisms.
Health and safety are expected to be hot issues in the upcoming negotiations. Injury rates at the Pasco plant are two-and-a-half times higher than the national average for meatpacking plants, according to the company’s own records.
Additionally, Tyson’s Pasco plant is just an hour and a half from Yakima, Washington, where the first case of mad cow in the United States was discovered.
“Safe working conditions lead to a more sanitary plant. Tyson has a responsibility to workers and consumers,” Martinez said.
Members are rallying around the union contract campaign in the wake of the vote. “We’re focusing on what unites us,” said shop steward Arturo Aguilar. “We want a safe plant and a more secure future for our families. That’s what we’re going to fight for in the new contract.”
David Levin is an organizer for Teamsters for a Democratic Union.