Union considers strike at meat plant that was virus hotspot
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 Foods did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
If the contract is not approved, union...