County votes to join Tyson boycott

MADISON, Wis. – Backed by a display of public support, arguments for solidarity won the day as the Dane County Board of Supervisors voted here July 10 to suspend its purchases of all products made by Tyson Foods. The vote was 23-9.

The “Justice for Jefferson” resolution was introduced by 5th District Supervisor Echnaton Vedder in response to a strike of 470 workers at the Doskocil Food Service plant in neighboring Jefferson County.

After purchasing the plant, Tyson demanded workers accept a series of concessions, including a 30 percent reduction in wages. The workers, members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 538, struck Feb. 28 after determining that Tyson would not fairly negotiate. An unfair labor practices charge is pending. According to Vedder, the county purchases roughly $30,000 of Tyson products each year.

Before the vote, about 100 workers and community members gathered with signs and banners on the steps of Madison’s City County Building to display their support for the measure. Heather Allen of the Four Lakes Green Party acted as emcee and led the throng in a chant of “Boycott Tyson!”

Also addressing the crowd were legislative sponsors of the resolution, Tyson workers, and union leaders. Plant worker Chuck Moehling described the local impact of Tyson’s practices, saying, “We’re trying to keep our families intact in that community.” But he also reminded supporters that the strike is of national importance. With Tyson’s 30 percent share of the industry market, Moehling said, “they have a major say in what goes on in our state and nation.”

Jim Cavanaugh, president of Wisconsin’s South Central Federation of Labor, said the county needed to tell Tyson, “If you come into our state and try to lower our standard of living, we will not do business with you.”

The Madison School Board approved a similar resolution last week, and plans for similar resolutions are pending for the city of Madison and for Jefferson County.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org