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Union Vote Authorizes Strike At Smithfield Foods In Sioux Falls

South Dakota - A strike authorization at the Sioux Falls chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union was overwhelmingly approved late Monday with 98% of the vote total, the union said. However, union leaders said they hope to avoid a work stoppage as they prepared to meet with company representatives. Meatpacking workers have become emboldened after a virus outbreak at the plant last year killed four workers and infected nearly 1,300. The union is demanding that Smithfield boost its wage offerings in a four-year contract to match those at a JBS pork plant in the region, as well as make several other concessions on break times and employee health insurance costs. “We’re not going to change our stand,” said B.J. Motley, the president of the local union.

Over 44,000 Meatpackers Tested Positive For COVID19

According to a tracker maintained by the Food & Environment Reporting Network, more than 44,000 meatpackers have tested positive for COVID-19 and more than 200 have died from it.  Now, a new exposé by the New York Times shows how many meatpacking families have struggled to get compensated for their loved one’s death on the job:  Workers’ compensation has traditionally been used to address on-the-job injuries — not fatalities tied to a pandemic that has disrupted millions of lives and killed more than 200,000 people in the United States. Tracing the exact origins of individual infections can be difficult, which appears to have given JBS an avenue to deny compensation claims on the grounds that the illnesses were not necessarily work related.

Nebraska: Working To Break Up Meat Monopolies

While most of us have recently witnessed empty shelves and higher price tags from the aisles of our local supermarkets, 2019 Fixer Graham Christensen has been fighting for solutions to our fractured food system from the fields. A fifth-generation farmer, Christensen founded the consulting company GC Resolve to help his home state of Nebraska establish more ethical and sustainable agricultural practices. According to Christensen, corporate greed is to blame for major meatpacking-plant shutdowns — brought on by a surge of coronavirus cases among workers — that have led to nationwide shortages of pork and poultry.

OSHA Fines Smithfield Foods For ‘Failing To Protect Employees’

The Smithfield Foods plant in Sioux Falls, which was the epicenter of one of the nation's largest coronavirus hotspots in April, has been fined by the U.S. Department of Labor. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced Thursday that it was fining the Smithfield Packaged Meats Corporation for $13,494 for "failing to protect employees from exposure to the coronavirus," a news release states. The fine is the maximum amount allowed by law. At least 1,294 Smithfield employees contracted coronavirus, and four employees died from the virus, the release states.

Bus Drivers Refuse To Help Police, Prison Labor Replaces Meatpackers And More

With protests erupting all over Minneapolis over the death of George Floyd, cops are attempting to arrest protesters in mass.  However, some bus drivers in Minneapolis are refusing to use their buses to transport protestors to jail.  “As a transit worker and union member, I refuse to transport my class and radical youth,” Minneapolis bus driver Adam Burch told Payday. “An injury to one is an injury to all. The police murdered George Floyd and the protest against is completely justified and should continue until their demands are met.”  While it would be illegal for Burch’s union to call for a wildcat strike, his local union ATU Local 1005 did issue a statement of solidarity with the protestors.  “In ATU, we have a saying “NOT ONE MORE” when it comes to driver assaults, which in some cases have led to members being murdered while doing their job,” said the union in a statement. 

The Generosity Of Agriculture

The generosity of agriculture and the potential for farmers, ranchers and all people to act in more selfless fashions can be found amongst the chaos of the times if one looks for it closely enough, said Zach Ducheneaux, Executive Director of the Intertribal Ag Council (IAC).  Ducheneaux, who works with his family on their fourth-generation ranch on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in north central South Dakota, has experienced the challenges and successes of the current food system in this nation firsthand.  He took the time to tell an important story to help inspire more goodwill and problem solving in the wake of tumultuous times.  “Even in these times of uncertainty, collapsing markets and few signs of hope on the horizon – farmers, ranchers, some government officials, nonprofits and Tribal Nations are thinking of ways to serve others first,” Ducheneaux began.

Children Protest For Their Parents At The Smithfield Foods Meat Factory

Saturday in Crete was the second round of drive–by protests against the lack of COVID–19 safety conditions at Smithfield Foods. Protestors were seen donning signs down main street with sayings like “essential not disposable.” The workers, experiencing a quick turnaround on Tuesday that didn’t give them the initial 2 week closure they were hoping to get. “When are we going to stop? When 300 people are sick? Is that where the COVID is going to stop,” said Sheila Balbuena, whose parents are working at the plant. “We would rather not eat meat for weeks or even months as long as everyone’s safe and the prices decrease,” said Yesenia Regalado, whose parents are working at the plant. “I haven’t been able to hug my mom in the past two weeks because she’s worried she’s going to affect any of us if she has it, you know,” said Emmanuel Sanchez-Mora, whose parents are working at the plant.

Trump Relaxes OSHA Rules And Governors Block Unemployment Benefits For Meatpackers

Earlier this week, the Trump Administration issued an Executive Order to use the Defense Production Act to order meatpacking plants to remain open.  Now, Smithfields is already using Trump’s Executive Order to attempt to block inspections of their plant. Fatima Hussein at Bloomberg has the story:  The Rural Community Workers Alliance, which represents Smithfield workers in Missouri, is seeking an order to force the company to comply with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state public health officials, as well as other worker protection requirements, at a Milan, Mo., plant. Nearly eight plant workers already have been forced to stay home because of Covid-19 symptoms. A court order would allow the group to inspect the plant and would force the company to make certain safety changes. Calling a court order to allow plaintiffs to inspect the plant “unprecedented,” Alexandra B. Cunningham, with Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP in Richmond, Va., represented Smithfield at the hearing Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri.

Defying Trump’s Order, Nebraska Meatpackers Strike And More Strike News

Earlier today, Trump announced that he intended to use the power of the federal government and the Defense Production Act to keep meat processing plants open throughout the United States.  The move comes as massive outbreaks with hundreds of workers have hit meatpacking plants throughout the U.S. As a result, scores of meatpacking plants have closed because of outbreaks.  Strikes and mass sickouts at a dozen meatpacking plants throughout the U.S. have led to the closure of additional plants.  It’s unclear how Trump intends to use the Defense Production Act to force meat packing processing workers back into the assembly line.  Organized labor immediately denounced the move. “We only wish that this administration cared as much about the lives of working people as it does about meat, pork, and poultry products."

Day Of Reckoning Dawns For Industrial Livestock Farms

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing livestock farms and grocery stores to consider whether the meat industry is primed for a new way of doing business. Critics of industrial-scale livestock farming say the evidence has rarely been clearer. Pork processing plants have temporarily closed after workers tested positive for COVID-19. Federal meat inspectors have fallen ill by the dozens, disrupting the operations of plants that remain open. Farmers are suddenly forced to feed — or kill — tens of thousands of animals that can't find a way to market. "This is all being laid bare right now," said Garrett Graddy-Lovelace, an associate professor at American University's School of International Service specializing in global environmental and agriculture policy.
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