Sioux Falls’ Smithfield union reps reach contract agreement; members to vote

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Source: Sioux Falls Argus Journal

Representatives of Sioux Falls Smithfield Foods union members have come to an agreement with the company on new contract terms.

The two parties reached an agreement on negotiations Wednesday, said Tina Gonalez, business agent for UFCW Local 304A. Union members are set to vote on the new four-year contract next week.

The Sioux Falls meatpacking plant quickly became one of the largest outbreaks in the country in spring 2020, with at least 1,294 employees contracting the coronavirus and four employees dying, according to a report from OSHA.

Last week, UFCW Local 304A President B.J. Motley had threatened that union members would strike if Smithfield Foods didn’t agree to the union’s terms in a new contract, which was set to expire this Monday. The union votes to authorize a strike at Smithfield if agreeable contract terms weren’t reached.

According to Motley, the company wanted to raise costs of health insurance for worker plans, take away a 15-minute break for employees working eight hour shifts and refused to raise base pay to $19 an hour.

“We feel that during a pandemic year and after calling Smithfield workers heroes for coming to work on a daily basis to feed America, they haven’t shown that appreciation at all during negotiations,” Motley told the Argus Leader last week.

According to Gonzalaz, the new contract proposed by Smithfield Foods has full union committee support. The new contract includes a $19 base pay to stay competitive with nearby meatpacking plants, ensures two 15-minute breaks remain for workers, lowers the raise in cost for health insurance among workers and provides a provision that Smithfield must work with union representation in a state of emergency.

The new provision outlines if there is a declaration of a state of emergency, such as one made during the coronavirus pandemic, then the company must meet with union representation before deciding how to proceed with workers.

During the height of the pandemic and outbreak at Smithfield, several workers felt that they were forced to put their lives at risk without proper precautions in place or the approval of workers themselves, according to prior reporting by the Argus Leader in April 2020.

While there still would be an increase in the cost of health insurance among workers, Gonzalaz said it was something union representatives are “comfortable with.”

Members are set to vote on the new contract on June 17, after an informational meeting next Tuesday.