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UFCW Staging Protests at Harris Teeters as Ploy to Organize Smithfield Plant Workers

MATTHEWS, N.C. -- Regional chain Harris Teeter here is apparently the latest target for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union in its quest to organize workers at Smithfield Packing Co.

The UFCW said Friday it was staging protests to be held on Saturday at Harris Teeter stores in 17 cities throughout the Southeast. The UFCW claimed that thousands of people have signed a petition calling for Harris Teeter to remove Smithfield pork from its shelves.

"Abused workers, clergy, civil rights leaders, and consumers are calling on Harris Teeter supermarkets to stop stocking Smithfield pork and find a new supplier for its house brand bacons," the group said in a statement. "Smithfield Packing in Tar Heel, N.C., the world's largest pork processing plant, has a long history of mistreating workers."

A call placed to Harris Teeter on Friday seeking comment was not returned.

The UFCW said its supporters in the campaign want Harris Teeter and other supermarkets to stop selling Smithfield pork from the plant until the alleged mistreatment of its workers ends.

The union has been trying to organize the more than 5,000 workers at Smithfield for several years, according to local reports. The union claims that workers are subjected to dangerous conditions and intimidation. Working conditions at the plant were detailed in a Human Rights Watch report in 2005.

Smithfield has strongly opposed the union. The company said Friday it would not be pressured into recognizing a union at its Tar Heel, North Carolina pork processing plant without a vote by its employees. It claimed the protests were a scheme by the union to overshadow the fact that the union is refusing to let employees vote on whether or not they want to join a union.

"If the UFCW believes that employees want a union, it should let them vote," Smithfield said in a statement. "By secret ballot. In a fair election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board and monitored by independent observers."

The union, however, said a fair election within the plant was not possible.
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