Living up to its legacy as the nation's number one "corporate outlaw," IBP Inc., the nation's largest meatpacker, has once again thwarted efforts by organized labor to guarantee humane and safe working conditions for packinghouse workers in the company's plants.
The latest chapter in the company's checkered labor history, which has included payoffs to corrupt union officials and repeated attempts to bust unions seeking fair worker representation and just wages, was recorded in Pasco, Washington, where striking slaughterhouse workers returned to their jobs at the IBP Inc. plant, angry that their national union had not supported their month-long strike and had failed to negotiate a settlement favorable to the rank and file.
The workers, while represented by the Teamsters Union, walked out on their own on June 4 after IBP's plant managers refused to slow down the facilities assembly production line. A strike vote was called for and approved on June 9. On June 16 the strikers sent letters to USDA complaining of worker safety and animal-rights violations. Five days later the workers overwhelmingly voted down IBP's contract proposal; however, on July 7 the workers ratified a new contract by a margin of 18 votes.
Local 556, with about 2,200 members, represents numerous nationalities in immigrant-rich southeastern Washington State and is well-represented inside the IBP plant, which employs about 1,250 of the local's members, and where a largely Mexican work force toils alongside Vietnamese, Laotians, and Bosnians.
Shortly after the strikers returned to work on July 9, many of them feeling bitter that they had been "sold out" by their union, their local was placed under trusteeship. Teamsters spokesman Chip Roth said the unusual move -- which substitutes leadership of the local with a person chosen by the Teamsters -- was needed "to protect the integrity of the union contract with IBP and to ensure that members' grievances will be effectively addressed." He said the situation was considered "an emergency," a necessary condition for changing a local's leadership without a public hearing.
Meanwhile, the Teamsters for a Democratic Union, a dissident wing of the labor giant, charged the move was calculated to derail several strike leaders who had hoped to gain control of the local in November. The leaders were aligned with the TDU, which had a full-time organizer at the picket line throughout much of the strike at the plant in Pasco.
"This is an attack on democracy," TDU spokesman Ken Paff told the Los Angeles Times' Nancy Cleeland. "These workers didn't get the support of the international, and now the international is trying to strip them of their right to a democratic election."
"They're trying to rob our union from us," says Maria Martinez, the chief shop steward inside the IBP plant and an outspoken leader of the dissident group. She and others allege that union leaders aren't responsive to the immigrant work force. Martinez has been using her ties to the TDU as a platform to educate Hispanic Teamsters about their rights as union members, arguing that such a campaign is necessary because Hispanics pay dues "but don't realize they have a voice in the union."
In particular, Martinez and her supporters are angry that while their new contract provided immediate pay increases, it replaced a long-running pension plan -- in which the company kicked in as much as $1.50 an hour -- with a 401(k) retirement plan to which workers must contribute.
The dissidents also contend that national leaders backed the strike only halfheartedly, refusing to support their proposal for a national boycott of IBP products while the union negotiators overlooked issues of worker safety and consumer protection.
Roth declared that "there's no foundation" for allegations that the Teamsters didn't support the strike. He notes that Jon Rabine, international vice president for the western region and a member of the Teamsters' national board, negotiated the contract. He calls that "an extraordinary commitment," since local union representatives typically handle their own talks.
He says the Teamsters sent Rabine in because the strike had created a "dangerous set of circumstances," with union members resigning and circulating the decertification petition that, the union says, had been signed by "well over 500" people.
People living in Hancock County, Maine are concerned about a possible increase in water-borne garbage and they have every right to be since such a problem already exists in nearby Washington County, home of Atlantic Salmon of Maine (ASOM) a Fairfield, Maine-based salmon farming company.
Currently ASOM operates salmon farming facilities in Washington County, and is planning to expand their operation to the Blue Hill Bay area in Hancock County.
At an April 15 hearing ASOM presented the necessary plans and research necessary to acquire a permit for their Blue Hill operation. They also explained plans unrelated to the lease process: They intend to transport fish and feed by barge from their Washington County location, and to process the Blue Hill salmon at their Machias, Maine facility.
They also indicated they will attempt to keep the area free of garbage. The lease, however, is not contingent on these plans being carried out as ASOM has no legal agreement with anyone to prevent garbage accumulating on area beaches.
The fact that this has already been a problem in their Washington county facility is underscored by the fact that the majority ownership of ASOM is held by two of the United States' largest agribusiness companies, Continental Grain Company and Seaboard Corporation.
Continental, with its subsidiary Premium Standard, and Seaboard Corporation, both with their corporate hog facilities scattered throughout the Midwest, already have a very poor reputation for being odorous neighbors and repeatedly degrading the environment.
Thus, considering the reputation these two companies have, their lack of accountability in the fact that both companies are privately held with no community control over how they operate, the citizens of Hancock County have every reason to be concerned about allowing these two corporate agribusiness giants to move into their area.
USDA's Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration has filed a complaint against Farmland National Beef Packing Company L.P., of Liberal, Kansas, the nation's fourth largest beef packer, alleging that the company violated the Packers and Stockyards Act.
The complaint alleges that Farmland changed its bidding and buying practices at Callicrate Cattle Company Feedyard, St. Francis, Kansas. The complaint says Farmland failed to make bids on or purchase cattle from Callicrate Feedyard after an article critical of Farmland written by the feedyard's sales manager was published in a livestock journal.
By failing to make bids on or purchase cattle from Callicrate Feedyard, the complaint charges, Farmland engaged in an unfair and possibly unjustly discriminatory practice and subjected the feedyard to an undue or unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage.
According to the complaint, Farmland failed to make bids on or purchase cattle from Callicrate Feedyard, while routinely making bids on and purchasing cattle from other similarly situated feedyards located in the same geographic area.
"This case goes to the heart of the concerns that every small-and medium-sized producer has about possible retaliation, discrimination and denial of market access in the livestock industry," GIPSA's Administrator James Baker
Farmland will have an opportunity to respond to the complaint and request an oral hearing before an administrative law judge.
Proving in one country that it is not beneath cooperating in economic blackmail while making it apparent in another country that it owes no loyalty to national interests when it comes to market share, bioengineer giants Monsanto and Novartis continues to give new meaning to Ambrose Bierce's classic definition of a corporation: "that inglorious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility."
In a recent affidavit by Monsanto and Novartis, Novartis threatens that if Ireland does not permit the deliberate release of genetically modified products, then "it may well become uneconomic for Novartis to continue to supply traditional seed to the Irish market. Given the importance of Novartis on the Irish market, this would have serious implications for the Irish sugar beet industry."
Monsanto and Novartis both claim that any delays in the testing of their product will cause them to lose "millions of pounds" of potential profits. The companies are rushing to field test the sugar beets and get them on the market before the patent runs out in 2011. Monsanto has applied for licenses for five other field sites in areas all over the country.
On May 1st, 1997 the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted Monsanto the first license in Ireland for a deliberate release of genetically modified organisms -- Roundup Ready sugar beet (a joint venture between Monsanto and Novartis).
Clare Watson, founding member of Genetic Concern! sought a High Court Judicial Review of the EPA's decision to grant the license. An interim injunction prevented Monsanto from planting the genetically modified sugar beets in the Carlow test site (a government research center), and a Judicial Review was granted.
The injunction was later overturned, and Monsanto planted the genetically modified sugar beets on the same day. Not long after, members of the Gaelic Earth Liberation Front (GELF) destroyed the crop. The Judicial Review was held on May 19, 1999. If the Court finds that the license was improperly granted, then Monsanto will be forced to abandon its plans to field test the genetically modified sugar beets.
The Roundup Ready sugar beets are designed to tolerate Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, a product that currently accounts for 90% of Monsanto sales in Ireland. The sugar beets would be the first deliberate release of genetically modified organisms in the country.
In Argentina, meanwhile, where 72.6% of the 1998-99 crop of soya was genetically modified (GM), Lindsay Keenan, now working for Greenpeace UK and who previously ran Genetix Food Alert, a group set up by the wholefood trade in the United Kingdom who want to remain GM free, reports that Argentinean farmers did not have to pay Monsanto any technology fee, that they did not have to sign an agreement to use Round-up and that they could save the seeds for use in the next season (indeed they had already been doing so).
Keenan notes that Martin Pietro from Greenpeace confirmed "that yes this was also his understanding of the agreements in Argentina." This is interesting because it would mean that Monsanto is having to forgo the $5 per bag of seed (50 lbs) that they currently charge farmers in the U.S. and Canada. In addition, Monsanto is also currently prosecuting many U.S. farmers for saving GM seeds.
"Clearly the cost benefit of Monsanto's package will depend upon the actual price that Monsanto is selling the package for," Keenan adds, "and if they sell it cheaply enough it will be more interesting to farmers. Economically and agronomically there is no particular reason why Monsanto should be able to sell these products at a reduced rate. In fact the increased costs of the biotechnology involved have indeed led to increases in the basic seed plus weedkiller package for farmers in the U.S. and Canada."
A. V. Krebs is Director of the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project, P.O. Box 2201, Everett, Washington 98203-0201 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org