Corporate America Rewards Abuses Against Workers
You may have missed it, but on July 30, Smithfield Foods -- the world's largest hog producer and pork processer, based in North Carolina -- made some very generous gifts to their corporate leadership:
Smithfield Foods chairman and chief executive officer Joseph W. Luter III got a $9.86 million bonus for the fiscal year 2005.
The bonus tops the $6.6 million bonus he received last year [...]
Fiscal 2005 was good for the other Smithfield executive officers, too. President and chief operating officer C. Larry Pope received a $4.9 million bonus. Joseph W. Luter IV, president of Smithfield Packing Co., got a $2.5 million bonus.
Jerry H. Godwin and Joseph B. Sebring, presidents of Murphy-Brown and John Morrell & Co., respectively, got $1.4 and $1.5 million bonuses.
What did these execs do to earn these riches? It's true that in 2005 the hog and pork giant earned a record $297 million in profits, based on a staggering $11.4 billion in sales.
But 2005 is also the year that Human Rights Watch released "Blood, Sweat and Fear: Worker's Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants." The report blasts Smithfield's chronic abuse of worker's rights:
An example of unlawful tactics are those Smithfield Foods has taken in response to organizing efforts at its massive pork-processing plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, where 5,000 workers slaughter, cut and package more than 25,000 hogs a day. In a 1997 union election, Smithfield's management fired union supporters, threatened plant closure, stationed police at plant gates to intimidate workers, and orchestrated an assault on union activists. On December 16, the National Labor Relations Board ordered a new election, which Smithfield immediately appealed.
In 2000, Smithfield created an internal company security force with "special police agency" status under North Carolina law that enables company security officers to exercise public police powers. In 2003, the company police used trumped-up charges to arrest workers who were active union supporters.
"The company has armed police walking around the plant to intimidate us," a Smithfield worker who came to the United States from El Salvador told Human Rights Watch. "It's especially frightening for those of us from Central America. Where we come from, the police shoot trade unionists."
You can read more about Smithfield's routine abuse of workers here and here. Is this what Smithfield's directors and corporate America are rewarding?
Chris Kromm is executive director of the Institute for Southern Studies and publisher of the Institute's online magazine, Facing South.