Striking Tyson Foods workers hold firm

JEFFERSON, Wis. – Solidarity with striking Tyson Foods workers, members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 538, continues to grow as 500 strikers and supporters rallied here June 22. As the strike approaches its fifth month, roads in this area are lined with signs in support of the 470 workers at the Tyson Foods plant.

The workers have been on strike since Feb. 28 after Tyson demanded huge concessions, including a freeze on wages, a two-tiered pay system for new employees, an increase in charges for health care, and the elimination of all severance benefits.

Chuck Moehling, one of the striking workers, said his plant had gone more than two decades without any serious labor dispute, but in February dozens of his coworkers felt compelled to retire because of threats to their pensions and insurance.

Moehling called the replacement of striking workers by temporary workers from QPS Services at a rate of $4 an hour less than the going wage a “transparent effort to split the union.” Union officials say that none of the strikers has crossed the picket line.

Tyson Foods insisted on concessions despite the fact that the plant is profitable. The company had a gross profit of $2.23 billion in 2002 and company chairman and CEO John Tyson received a million dollar salary in addition to a bonus of $3.48 million plus stock options.

Among those who have announced support for the workers is Dane County Supervisor Echnaton Vedder, a youthful Green Party activist who is the primary sponsor of County Resolution 54, which would suspend all county purchases of Tyson products until they negotiate a “fair and dignified contract” with the workers. Madison City Council member Brian Bedford said the city of Madison was considering a similar approach, and news reports this week speak of a possible statewide ban on government purchases from Tyson. Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) have spoken out in support of the workers.

Moehling told reporters that Tyson’s efforts to bust the union have ramifications beyond this plant. “If it happens in Jefferson, it’s just the beginning,” said Moehling. “Tyson controls 30 percent of the industry. If they succeed, the other companies will have to follow suit.”

For more information on the strike and how to help, log on to www.tysonfamiliesstandup.org.

The authors can be reached at pww@pww.org