DODGE CITY, Kansas – The United Food and Commercial Workers gained its second big union recognition election win at a meatpacker in two weeks on Nov. 4, just before the union and an international union federation met to discuss the impact of increasing concentration of the retail grocery industry into just a few megafirms.

The win, at National Beef’s slaughter and processing plant in Dodge City, Kansas, will bring an estimated 2,500 more workers into UFCW District Local 2. They’ll join other workers the local already represents at an area Cargill plant.

“We know that workers at Cargill, just down the street, have had a contract with Local 2 for many years — and that means they always had a say in their wages, benefits, and working conditions,” Ramon Prieto, who works on the kill floor at National Beef, told UFCW. Prieto helped lead the organizing drive at National.

“That’s why I voted to join the UFCW, so that we all will have a chance to negotiate benefits and salaries, job security, and a better life for our families,” he added.

Meanwhile, representatives of UFCW and the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers joined representatives of Cargill, Tyson Foods, Nestle, Smithfield, and other processors and manufacturers in Omaha, Neb., to discuss increasing concentration in food retailing.

The concern of both the unions and the companies is that concentration allows retailers to dictate purchase prices to wholesalers and manufacturers, driving down profits – and forcing manufacturers to try to cut workers’ pay to stay in the black.

“Think Wal-Mart,” one attendee said, referring to the monster retailer — which also holds a huge position in the retail grocery industry — using its massive market force to dictate prices to its suppliers.

“No retailer in the world wants to be like Hinky Dinky. Everybody wants to be like Wal-Mart, so everybody is starting to emulate that,” UFCW official Mark Lauritsen told the Omaha World-Herald. “That consolidation at the retail level, it’s feeding itself all the way through the supply chain.”

IUF speakers said the best union response is an international one, with food workers’ unions collaborating across international boundaries to combat retail food conglomerates. That would build on past IUF-coordinated efforts, which saw U.S. unions, such as the Bakery Workers, reach out for support from their overseas counterparts when dealing with multi-national firms.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of the People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C.   Gruenberg has been editor-in-chief of PAI since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jarvis bureau chief for the Middletown NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for the Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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