Working conditions at Smithfield Foods during the pandemic raised concerns from members of the union.
Facing a new contract this month, union members threatened to strike over salary and working conditions.
Jesus Gonzalez is a reporter for ¿Que Pasa? Sioux Falls. He works with members of the Latino community who are employed by Smithfield.
“We got to see a lot of the first-hand stories of people, many things that we were, you could say scared to put out because we didn’t know how Smithfield could react,” Gonzalez said.
“The amount of information we were getting was extremely raw from photos to videos to you name it. We had enough documentation to say ‘hey, this is not the way you treat such a thing like a pandemic.’”
The work Gonzalez is doing is alongside Nancy Reynoza who is the chief executive officer of ¿Que Pasa?. It became personal when two employees they had worked closely with died from COVID-19.
Kooper Caraway is the president of the South Dakota State Federation of Labor. He said the labor shortage is due to conditions during the pandemic.
“What you’re seeing is workers second guessing what they’re willing to risk for wages that are not going to put food on their table.” Caraway said. “They’re not necessarily any more willing to risk not only being evicted or not only paying their bills, or having to choose between over working themselves and never seeing their family, or feeding their family.”
“But they’re having to choose putting their health and safety of their families and of their communities at risk.”
Caraway said union members were unified in their support for negotiating a contract with the company.