Smithfield Foods has a tentative agreement with its union. This comes after nearly three months of negotiations and the threat of a strike at the Sioux Falls pork plant.
Union leadership will hold informational sessions about the proposal before members vote next Thursday.
Tina Gonzalez is a business agent at UFCW Local 304a and was at the bargaining table.
Publicly speaking out about the negotiations put pressure on Smithfield to agree to the union’s demands, Gonzalez said. But what really made a difference was the strength and unity of the union itself.
“I think that the biggest part that convinced them was seeing how much support we actually had at the plant,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t think that they realized how tired our workers are right now. I don’t think that they realized that they’re willing – even though 60% of them live paycheck to paycheck – I don’t think that they realized and really understood that they would much rather struggle for a couple of weeks or even a month of going out on strike than continue to work under the conditions that they were, to continue to be working for the same amount of money that Taco John’s was paying. So I think that those thing were a real eye opener for them.”
Eighty-five to 90 percent of workers at the pork plant are in the union. That’s a high rate for a right-to-work state, Gonzalez said. Ninety-eight percent of members agreed to strike if an agreement wasn’t met.
The proposed contract preserves a 15-minute afternoon break for all workers and raises the starting wage from $17 an hour to $18.75. There will also be a $520 one-time bonus once the agreement is signed.
This new wage makes the Sioux Falls plant more competitive with the JBS pork plant in nearby Worthington, Minnesota. Workers there earn at least $19 an hour.
The contract will require Smithfield to work with union leadership on safety plans during any future pandemic or other kind of emergency.
It also provides paid grievance leave for all workers who lose an immediate family member. Before, leave was only available to workers who physically went to a funeral, which isn’t possible for the many workers whose loved ones live overseas.
Smithfield did not respond to a request for comment.