Meatpacking giant Smithfield Foods is suing the United Food and Commercial Workers, the union that many Smithfield workers have chosen to represent them in their unionizing efforts at the company.
According to a press release from the union, the company's lawsuit was filed this past week under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, legislation originally designed to tackle organized crime syndicates.
The company appears to be claiming that the union's efforts to build community support for the Smithfield workers in a campaign to win recognition for their union amounts to extortion.
The union counters that the company's violations against workers at its Tar Heel, North Carolina, plant are well documented in public records, including illegally firing, intimidating, assaulting, using racial epithets and spying on workers.
The union also points to administrative law court rulings on Smithfield's violations of labor laws and to a report authored by internationally respected Human Rights Watch documenting systematic abuse by the company against its workers.
Additionally, at its Wilson facility, the company engaged in similar misconduct to suppress workers from attaining union representation. The company has also been cited and fined by the EPA and the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
According to the union's press release:
"It is more than ironic that Smithfield now wants to turn to the law to shield its abusive conduct from public exposure. The company action constitutes hypocrisy of the highest order, seeking to hide behind a frivolous lawsuit that also targets community and religious leaders for advocating on behalf of Smithfield's Tar Heel workers."The union views the lawsuit as the company's latest attempt to suppress the rights of working people to petition the government for redress of grievances and to suppress their rights to free association and speech by informing the public about abuse at Smithfield plants.
Additionally, because many supporters of the workers at Smithfield have decided to either refrain from buying Smithfield's meat and pork products (such as bacon) until the company agrees to recognize the workers collective bargaining rights or to inform stores that carry Smithfield's products about the problems in the company's plants, the company's lawsuit is retaliatory measure meant to "prevent consumers from learning about the working conditions that exist where products they buy are produced."
Smithfield workers themselves have not actually called for a boycott of the company's products.
The company, in conjunction with numerous right-wing, anti-union and anti-worker organizations, has launched a smear campaign against national, state, and local public officials, religious and community leaders who support the cause of justice at Smithfield's Tar Heel plant.
The union says, "It is truly shameful that Smithfield is willing to spend millions of dollars on high-priced lawyers and frivolous lawsuits rather than committing the resources needed to provide basic safety and health improvements for Tar Heel workers. "
There is nothing substantive in the lawsuit, says the union, except for being a tactic in Smithfield's aggressive campaign "to ensure that only the voices of the powerful are heard."
The union vowed to continue to struggle on behalf of the workers at Smithfield who have sought its representation.
--Reach Joel Wendland at email@example.com
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