Union considers strike at meat plant that was virus hotspot

Jun 2, 2021, 1:57 PM | Updated: 7:59 pm

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Workers at a South Dakota meatpacking plant that became a coronavirus hotspot last year are considering a strike after contract negotiations between Smithfield Foods and the union have stalled, the union said Wednesday.

The Sioux Falls chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union threatened to move for a walkout and work stoppage if the Virginia-based company does not resume negotiations on a new four-year contract. The dispute has centered on the wages for meatpacking employees, health care costs and break times. The union said workers have risked their health and lives throughout the pandemic, arguing the company should do more for its employees.

The plant became an early indicator of just how vulnerable meatpacking plants were to the pandemic when a surge of infections surfaced among workers in April last year. Four plant workers died from COVID-19 and nearly 1,300 were infected. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Smithfield Foods for failing to protect employees from exposure to the coronavirus at the plant.

“It is stunning that Smithfield still refuses to work together with UFCW Local 304A to reach an agreement that recognizes the incredible service of these dedicated South Dakotan workers,” the local union president B.J. Motley said in a statement.

Union members will vote this week on the company’s current contract offer. According to the union, the proposed contract starts employees off at $18 an hour and cuts a 15-minute break period. The union is pressing to start employees at $19 an hour, as well as avoid increases to employees’ health insurance premiums and allow more time for medical leave.

Smithfield Chief Administrative Officer Keira Lombardo said in a statement that the union’s comments were inaccurate. The company said that if union members rejected an offer scheduled for a vote Thursday, there were discussions about scheduling more meetings next week.

“It is unfortunate that the union has issued a statement that is, unquestionably, inaccurate,” Lombardo said. “Such tactics during an active and ongoing contract negotiation are a disservice to our many hard-working employees.”

If the contract is not approved, union members could then vote to consider striking, but that would not become an option until June 7, when a contract extension deadline expires.

Smithfield CEO Kenneth Sullivan has aggressively defended how the company handled the virus outbreak. Local union leaders have said that after the meatpacking plant shut down for several weeks last year amid the outbreak, the company implemented most of the measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But it has maintained that workers are still at risk to the virus as they work shoulder-to-shoulder on butchering lines.

“While vaccinations are increasing in South Dakota, the COVID risks these frontline workers face are still here and Smithfield must recognize this reality,” Motley said.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - A Boeing 737 Max jet prepares to land at Boeing Field following a test flight in Seattle, Se...
Associated Press

Boeing plans to cut about 2,000 finance and HR jobs in 2023

SEATTLE (AP) — Boeing plans to make staffing cuts in the aerospace company’s finance and human resources departments in 2023, with a loss of around 2,000 jobs, the company said. “We expect about 2,000 reductions primarily in Finance and HR through a combination of attrition and layoffs,” Boeing said in a statement Monday. “While no […]
1 day ago
A currency trader watches monitors near the screens showing the Korea Composite Stock Price Index (...
Associated Press

Asian stocks mixed after Wall St sinks on rate fears

BEIJING (AP) — Asian stock markets were mixed Tuesday after Wall Street sank under pressure from interest rate worries, Japanese wages rose and Australia’s central bank hiked its benchmark lending rate. Shanghai, Hong Kong and Seoul advanced. Tokyo and Sydney declined. Oil prices rose. Wall Street sank for a second day Monday after unexpectedly strong […]
1 day ago
New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, left, listens as Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albane...
Associated Press

Australian, New Zealand leaders’ talk focuses on China

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australian and New Zealand prime ministers met Tuesday to talk about China’s importance to their national economies, resolving to voice their disagreements with their most important trading partner that is becoming more assertive in their region. New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins made Australia the destination of his first overseas trip […]
1 day ago
FILE - Philip Lowe, Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia addresses a lunch in Sydney, Australi...
Associated Press

Australia lifts cash rate to 3.35% with 9th rate hike

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s central bank on Tuesday lifted its benchmark interest rate for a ninth consecutive time to 3.35% as it battles inflation that rose to 7.8% in the latest quarter. The Reserve Bank of Australia’s decision to increase its cash rate by 0.25 of a basis point was widely anticipated after the […]
1 day ago
Transgender activist Henry Edward Tse speaks to reporters outside of Court of Final Appeal in Hong ...
Associated Press

Hong Kong transgender men win appeal over status change

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong’s top court ruled Monday that full sex reassignment surgery should not be a prerequisite for transgender people to have their gender changed on their official identity cards, in a move that is likely to have a far-reaching impact on the transgender community. A transgender activist, Henry Edward Tse, and […]
1 day ago
This photo provided by Budweiser shows a scene from Budweiser's 2023 Super Bowl NFL football ad. Br...
Associated Press

For Super Bowl ads this year, crypto is out, booze is in

NEW YORK (AP) — The hottest ticket in town for advertisers is officially sold out. Fox said Monday that in-game ads for Super Bowl LVII have all been sold. The big game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles takes place on Sunday. The Super Bowl is advertising’s biggest stage, with advertisers jockeying […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Fiesta Bowl Foundation

Celebrate 50 years of Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade magic!

Since its first production in the early 1970s, the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe has been a staple of Valley traditions, bringing family fun and excitement to downtown Phoenix.
...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet edges out cable for everyday use

In a world where technology drives so much of our daily lives, a lack of high-speed internet can be a major issue.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Prep the plumbing in your home just in time for the holidays

With the holidays approaching, it's important to know when your home is in need of heating and plumbing updates before more guests start to come around.
Union considers strike at meat plant that was virus hotspot