National Beef in Dodge City to vote on unionizing

AP News
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Posted: Dec 02, 2009 6:53 PM

Workers at the National Beef meatpacking plant in Dodge City will vote soon on whether to unionize, the National Labor Relations Board said Wednesday.

The vote could be held by late this month, although an exact date won't be set until next week, NLRB Regional Director Daniel Hubbel said.

Hubbel wouldn't say how many people signed a petition for a vote on unionization but said it met the agency's 30 percent threshold.

If approved, the union would represent about 2,200 mostly production and maintenance workers, he said.

Martin Rosas, secretary-treasurer of the United Food and Commercial Workers, said there is momentum inside the plant for unionization. He estimated roughly 65 percent of the workers had signed the union's petition calling for an election.

"We are very confident," Rosas said.

National Beef issued an e-mail statement Wednesday, saying employees have the right to vote on whether to unionize and the vote will be "conducted by a neutral federal government agency, the NLRB."

The last time a large slaughterhouse in western Kansas tried to unionize was in 2007 at Tyson Foods Inc.'s Holcomb plant. Workers there rejected the United Steelworkers by nearly a 3-to-1 margin.

"It is sort of a different ball game here _ we have a union plant two miles away," Rosas said, referring to the Cargill Meat Solutions plant in Dodge City.

Many of the employees at the nonunion National Beef plant have relatives who work at the Cargill plant and can compare benefits between them, he said. National Beef also has a union plant in Liberal.

Rosas said one example of the difference between union and nonunion plants is the pace of the work at the two in Dodge City. The nonunion National Beef plant typically kills 440-470 head of cattle an hour, compared to the 370-388 head of cattle killed per hour at the unionized Cargill plant, he said. Faster line speeds are often associated with higher injury rates.

National Beef said it follows U.S. Department of Agriculture standards regarding the pace of work.

The push to unionize the National Beef plant is being driven by worker worries about health and safety, wages and working conditions, Rosas said.

"Also, the most valuable part, is being treated with dignity and respect," he said.