Workers at the world’s largest pork plant say they will either skip work or walk out in protest on Monday at the company’s denial of their request for a day off with pay on the national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Smithfield Packing, based in Bladen County, North Carolina, is facing the possibility of its second worker walkout in two months on account of its refusal to honor what is even a North Carolina holiday at a plant with the largest concentration of African-American workers in the state.

Last Tuesday, a petition signed by thousands of workers was delivered to Smithfield Packing Vice President Larry Johnson Carolina, asking for the day off. A group of local ministers and civil rights leaders got the workers’ backs in an open letter published January 10 in the Fayetteville Observer:

“Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement that ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’ is aptly applied to the situation at Smithfield’s Tar Heel plant. We experience the abuses committed against Smithfield workers as if they are committed against us. In honor of Martin Luther King Day, we appeal to Smithfield to begin healing the wounds of over a decade of injustice towards workers and grant them a holiday to commemorate this noble leader and the cherished ideals for which he fought and died.”

But Smithfield has not been moved.

It says that workers will be docked a day’s pay and could be disciplined if they skip work on Monday. Given the company’s history, its intransigence is not surprising. Last September, Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, wrote in The Nation‘s first food issue about Smithfield’s unsafe working conditions, its longstanding violations of a wide array of labor laws and its creation of “an atmosphere of intimidation and coercion” in order to prevent workers at the plant from joining the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

Sign the petition asking for recognition of the King holiday and click here to send a letter to Smithfield’s CEO and Chairman asking the company to rethink unnecessarily fast line speeds, inadequate training, and dangerously thin safety precautions–and to honor the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr.. You can also call Smithfield’s Tar Heel plant at 757-365-3000 or 888-366-6767.


Let Justice Roll Down

From 1961 to 1966, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. wrote an annual essay for The Nation on the state of civil rights and race relations in America. His 1965 contribution was particularly strong. This article originally appeared in the March 15, 1965, issue. Dr. King’s words, ominously ring as true today as the day they were written more than forty years ago.

“‘Let Justice roll down like waters in a mighty stream,’ said the Prophet Amos. He was seeking not consensus but the cleansing action of revolutionary change. America has made progress toward freedom, but measured against the goal the road ahead is still long and hard. This could be the worst possible moment for slowing down.”