Union vote authorizes strike at South Dakota pork plant

The union at a Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in South Dakota says it will head to contract negotiations armed with the authorization to call a strike

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The union at a Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in South Dakota said it will head to contract negotiations Tuesday armed with the authorization to call a strike.

A strike authorization at the Sioux Falls chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union was overwhelmingly approved late Monday with 98% of the vote total, the union said. However, union leaders said they hope to avoid a work stoppage as they prepared to meet with company representatives.

“We’re not going to change our stand,” said B.J. Motley, the president of the local union.

Smithfield Foods, which is based in Virginia, has said its initial offer, which was rejected by the union last week, is in “full alignment” with agreements that UFCW has already accepted at other plants.

Smithfield, like other large meatpacking companies, spent millions of dollars to incentivize workers and outfit plants with plexiglass safety barriers. It has pointed out that after the plant reopened, large outbreaks were avoided.

But workers at the plant have complained that they are working harder and longer amid a workforce shortage created by both the pandemic and its economic effects. They say workers have left the plant, either to work at other meatpacking plants offering better pay or for service industry jobs that have suddenly boosted wages.

Smithfield Foods did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Motley did not offer a deadline for when a strike could happen, but said the union would wait until Smithfield makes a final contract offer.

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