ATLANTA (B)--Managers at the world's largest pork processing plant, the Smithfield Packing Co.'s slaughterhouse in Tar Heel, NC, committed "egregious and pervasive" labor law violations during two unionizing campaigns in the 1990s, an administrative law judge has ruled, according to an article in The New York Times.
Judge John H. West also ordered the company to adopt numerous policies giving the union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, a fair shot in its next election.
West's opinion, which was issued on Dec. 15 and runs 436 pages, finds that 11 Smithfield workers were illegally fired because of their union sympathies and must be rehired with back pay. The judge concluded that other workers had been threatened and improperly interrogated about their union activities, that the company had warned of layoffs and a possible plant closing if the unionization campaign succeeded and that one pro-union employee had been assaulted in retaliation for his organizing efforts.
Workers at the Smithfield plant were so intimidated by management, West ruled, that any future election should be held outside the plant and possibly even outside the county because of the company's influence in the area.
West, working for the National Labor Relations Board, set aside the results of the most recent election, in 1997, which the company won with 63% of the vote. He also wrote that several of the company's lawyers and managers had lied under oath in hearings on the case. He raised the possibility that one lawyer had suborned perjury and that another had knowingly introduced false statements at the hearing.
The case is far from over. A spokesman for Smithfield Foods of Smithfield, VA, the parent of the packing company, said Jan. 3 that it would appeal the judge's findings to the full National Labor Relations Board, and that if it failed there, it would appeal to the federal courts.