Max Fraser writes: The United Food and Commercial Workers’ “Justice at Smithfield” campaign, joined by labor, community and immigrant rights groups and religious leaders, staged a noontime demonstration at the corporate offices of Smithfield Foods in midtown Manhattan recently. The rally was an attempt to bring the meatpacking firm’s abusive treatment of its nonunion workforce to the attention of New York consumers. Smithfield workers described dangerous and unhealthy conditions and illegal unionbusting at the company’s Tar Heel, North Carolina, facility [see Eric Schlosser, “Hog Hell,” Sept. 11]. New York labor leaders endorsed putting a resolution before the City Council to discourage city supermarkets from stocking products from the Tar Heel plant. Organizers entered the Smithfield building with a letter for chairman Joseph Luter III suggesting he “do the right thing” or face the possibility that New York consumers would find Smithfield products “distasteful”–only to discover company officials had decided, after the demonstration began, to take a long weekend. Smithfield’s anti-unionism makes even more troubling a recent NLRB decision reversing a judge’s order that Smithfield bargain with the UFCW at its Wilson, North Carolina, plant–and Smithfield’s recent purchase of Premium Standard Farms, giving it control of more than 30 percent of the US pork industry and a North Carolina monopoly.
SLAVERY REPARATIONS UPDATE
John Friedman writes: At a recent hearing before the Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, attorneys for slave descendants asked a three-judge panel to send their slavery reparations suit back for a further hearing to the US district court. A judge there had dismissed it last year, ruling that the statute of limitations had expired and that the plaintiffs had no legal standing. The twenty plaintiffs include Deadria Farmer-Paellmann, the attorney who first uncovered a corporate link to slavery, and Cain Wall, a 108-year-old man who was enslaved on plantations in Mississippi and Louisiana from birth until his escape in the 1960s. More than fifteen defendants are named in the class-action lawsuit, including JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America. Absent at the hearing in Chicago was Judge Ann Claire Williams, the only African-American on the court. She had recused herself, according to a court clerk. The plaintiffs’ lawyers asked the all-white, all-male panel to disqualify itself and were told to file a formal motion. Williams refused to comment.