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Dispute settled in meat processing.

Dispute settled in meat processing

In the meat processing industry, a long dispute that pitted employees against management and a local union against the parent United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) apparently ended when the UFCW settled with Geo. A Hormel and Co.'s flagship plant in Austin, MN. Concurrent with the Austin accord, Hormel and the UFCW also negotiated a new contract for seven plants in six states. The difficulties at the Austin plant, which included a "corporate campaign' against Hormel that was initiated by the Local P-9 before the UFCW removed its officers and a year-long strike that ended with the contract settlement, can be traced through a number of developments in recent years:

In 1982, Local P-9 agreed to a 3-year contract that included a no-strike guarantee, as well as elimination of an incentive pay plan. In return for these inducements to locate a new $100 million plant in Austin, Hormel pledged to maintain the employees standard wage rate at the same level as at other major companies in the industyr.

In 1983, the industry was hit by bankruptcies and plant closings, leading to cuts in the previous $10.69 an hour standard pay rate. Hormel pressed employees at all eight of its plants for similar cuts to remain competitive. Unlike employees at the other plants, those in Austin rejected the offer, contending that the "me-too' clause in their contract was only intended to raise wages. An arbitrator later ruled that Hormel could cut the rate at Austin to between $8 and $9 an hour.

In 1984, employees of the seven other plants negotiated with Hormel on the issue and settled on an immediate $9 rate, rising to $10 in September 1985. Austin employees rejected the proposal and initiated the corporate campaign to bring consumer pressure against Hormel. At the same time, Hormel cut the pay rate to $8.25 at Austin. Leaders of the parent union condemned Local P-9's action in breaking ranks with the other locals and questioned the value of the corporate campaign tactic. Despite the condemnation, the local did not change.

In August 1985, 1,400 employees struck the plant after negotiators failed to agree on a new contract to succeed the 1982 contract. To increase pressure on the company, Local P-9 accelerated the corporate campaign, which was declared to be an illegal secondary boycott in a National Labor Relations Board ruling issued the following month.

In January 1986, Hormel began hiring replacements for the strikers, leading to intensified picketing at the plant and a call-up of the National Guard, as well as efforts by pickets to increase pressure on Hormel by traveling to other company plants. This led to the firing of 500 workers at the Ottumwa, IA, plant for honoring the roving picket line. At the end of the month, Hormel said that it had nearly a full work force, comprising 550 returning strikers and 550 replacement workers.

In March 1986, the UFCW declared the strike a lost cause and moved to place Local P-9 in trusteeship, leading to legal actions that culminated in a ruling that the UFCW's action was proper.

In July 1986, some of the former strikers formed the North American Meatpackers Union in an attempt to eventually supplant the UFCW as bargaining agent for the Austin employees.

In August 1986, Hormel and the UFCW settled for the Austin operations. The accord provides for pay increases totaling 70 cents an hour for the strikers who returned to work in January. The replacement workers hired in January also will move up to $10.70 an hour over the contract term. Previously, they were paid $8 an hour to start and a maximum of $9 later. The union did not win immediate rehiring of the strikers who remained out until the stoppage was concluded, but Hormel did agree that for 2 years the strikers will have priority in filling openings that occur.

The new Austin contract runs for 4 years, compared with 3 years for the other locations, where concurrent settlements resulted in the same pay rates as for Austin. Hormel said that in the 1990 negotiations for the seven plants, it will agree to a common expiration date at all locations, including Austin, a major union goal to strengthen its bargaining position. The seven plants are in Fremont, NE, Beloit, WI, Algona, IA, Charlotte, NC, Dallas and Houston, TX, and Atlanta, GA.

In a related event, an arbitrator ordered Hormel to rehire the 500 workers it had fired in January for refusing to cross picket lines. Hormel accepted the ruling in principle, but noted that the January shutdown of the Ottumwa facility precluded rehiring all of the workers.

Elsewhere in meat processing, the UFCW settled with Oscar Mayer Co. for 2,300 workers in Davenport, IA, Madison, WI, and Chicago, IL. The 3-year accord provides for wage increases totaling 65 cents an hour, bringing the standard rate to $10.70; a new supplemental retirement plan; an additional paid holiday; and health care improvements.
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Title Annotation:United Food and Commercial Workers settles with Hormel
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Date:Nov 1, 1986
Previous Article:Steelworkers press organizing and coordinated bargaining.
Next Article:American workers, American unions, 1920-1985.

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