An article from today's New York Times:
Court Rules Pork Processor Broke Law in Fighting Union
By STEVEN GREENHOUSE
Published: May 10, 2006
Nearly nine years after a unionization drive failed, a federal appeals court has ruled that the Smithfield Packing Company repeatedly broke the law in battling unionization at its giant pork-processing plant in Tar Heel, N.C.
In a decision released on Monday, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld a broad cease-and-desist order that the National Labor Relations Board issued against Smithfield in 2004 in response to complaints by the United Food and Commercial Workers. The union accused Smithfield of illegally skewing a 1997 election by intimidating and firing workers.
Concluding that Smithfield had engaged in "intense and widespread coercion," the appeals court upheld the labor board's ruling that one worker was improperly coerced when he was ordered to stamp hogs with a "Vote No" stamp.
The appeals court ordered Smithfield to reinstate four fired workers, one of whom was beaten by the plant's police the day of the election. The court concurred with the labor board's findings that Smithfield's managers were not credible when they insisted that the four workers were fired for reasons other than their support for the union.
The circuit court noted that Smithfield had illegally confiscated union materials, spied on workers' union activities, threatened to fire workers who voted for the union, and threatened to freeze wages and shut the plant if the employees unionized. The Smithfield plant has 5,500 employees and is the world's largest pork-processing facility.
The union, which has complained about how long the litigation has taken, is continuing organizing efforts at the plant, but is not seeking an election. It lost the 1997 election 1,910 to 1,107.
Gene Bruskin, the director of the unionization drive, said, "It's atrocious that the courts and the N.L.R.B. have taken this long and that Smithfield can get off the hook for this long when it has shown such gross disregard for the laws of the land."
Smithfield voiced disappointment, saying it was considering an appeal to the Supreme Court. Dennis Pittman, Smithfield's director of human resources, said, "We are proud of our high employee morale, and we are anxious to put this issue behind us."
In a separate case, the labor board ruled last week that Smithfield and QSI, the cleaning contractor in Tar Heel, had assaulted and illegally fired several immigrants who staged a walkout in November 2003 to protest the firing of two supervisors. Smithfield said it would appeal.