Bureau of National Affairs

Monday August 12, 1996




Food Processing


Laborers' Walk Out At Case Farms After Company Refuses To Bargain



Some 400 of 450 workers at a Case Farms poultry processing plant in Morganton, N.C., walked off their jobs Aug. 8 due to the company's refusal to negotiate a first contract with the Laborers' International Union of North America, the union said Aug. 9.


In addition to the company's refusal to bargain, it has fired 38 workers for union activity since a representation election was held last July, according to Mark Panepinto, an international organizer for the union, who is in Morganton.


Workers voted for LIUNA representation July 12, 1995, by a vote of 238 to 183, but the employer filed a number of objections (136 DLR A-2, 7/17/95). In a Dec. 12, 1995, decision, a three-member panel of the National Labor Relations Board adopted a hearing officer's recommendations that the employer's objections to the election be overruled and the union certified as the bargaining agent.


The same panel, consisting of Chairman William B. Gould and Members Margaret Browning and Charles Cohen, issued a bargaining order on March 7, 1996, finding that the employer had violated the National Labor Relations Act by refusing to bargain with the union. The employer has appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.


David Roscow, a LIUNA spokesman in Washington, D.C., said that the union expects the strike to continue until the company begins to negotiate a first contract.


Panepinto said that the company is bringing in replacement workers. But, he said, the company cannot permanently replace the workers because the work stoppage is an unfair labor practice strike.


The workers are receiving support from the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, a group of progressive religious leaders based in Chicago, Panepinto said.


In a statement released Aug. 8, Bishop Jesse DeWitt, chair of the committee, said that ``[r]eligious and community groups across the country will not let the injustice to these workers continue. We will come together in solidarity to support the rights and respect these workers and all workers across America deserve.”


According to Panepinto, 95 percent of the bargaining unit is made up of Guatemalan and Mexican immigrants. In a statement released by the union, a number of the workers were quoted about the poor working conditions they contend they are facing.


``We work eight-hour shifts with only one bathroom break,” said Francisco Ramirez. ``My co-worker, Juan Lopez, was forced to continue working even when his wrist swelled up to the size of a grapefruit because of repetitive carpal [tunnel] syndrome.”


Another Case Farms worker Juan Ignazio Montes said, ``At the end of the day my hands and arms are so sore because the processing line is moving so quickly. I don't even have time to sort out the bad chickens.”


A Case Farms spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.


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