Worthington packinghouse workers authorize strike

Workers at the JBS pork processing facility have voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, their union announced. More than 1,800 union workers are employed at the facility slaughtering hogs and processing and packaging pork products. They are represented by United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1161.

Workers have been at the bargaining table with the company negotiating a new union contract for 10 months. The company has made no offer of any wage increases, and has repeatedly proposed a health care plan that could drastically increase out-of-pocket costs for workers, while reducing coverage, the union said.

Over the last few years, JBS’s union workers across the country have negotiated with the company to keep labor costs down, making it possible for the company to thrive. Together, workers and the company have kept health care costs steady and cost-effective.

“Today, JBS is a successful, profitable, multi-national corporation that’s earning profits hand over fist,” said Mike Potter, president of UFCW Local 1161. “Working people in the plants made this success possible. Yet, the company is demanding that workers accept deep cuts to their health care coverage. Their proposed health care plan is so bad, and so potentially expensive, it could mean bankruptcy for workers who become seriously ill, or decide to have a baby. There is simply no economic need to threaten the livelihoods of these workers – the only reason for this is greed.”

“I’ve worked at JBS for 23 years,” said Lisa Mejia who operates a whizard knife on the cut floor and is on the union’s bargaining committee. “This has always been a good job, and workers have always been able to sit down and negotiate decent wages and benefits that mean we can have a good life. But now the company is asking us to make too big a sacrifice – one that puts our families at risk. It’s just not right, and it will negatively affect hundreds of families in Worthington and across the area.”

The UFCW represents JBS workers at several other locations around the country. Workers are also at the bargaining table in Greeley, Colorado; Souderton, Pennsylvania; and Grand Island, Nebraska, where the company is proposing similar cuts to health care. Workers in Louisville, Kentucky; and Omaha, Nebraska, will begin negotiations in the next two months. If Worthington workers go on strike and the dispute spreads to these other locations, it could affect more than 10,000 workers.

At top: Workers demonstrated earlier this year in Worthington for a fair contract. (Video by the University of Minnesota Labor Education Service)

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