TAR HEEL — Shouts of “We have a union!” could be heard echoing across the parking lot of the Smithfield Packing plant in Tar Heel late Thursday night as the results of the union vote were announced to employees. The employees voted 2,041 for the union and 1,879 “for the company.”
“The National Labor Relations Board has just notified the Tar Heel employees of the outcome,” said Dennis Pittman, a company spokesman, said on Thursday night.
When asked why he referred to the votes against a union as being “for the company,” Pittman said it was simply a choice of wording and nothing more.
The votes were cast by secret ballot and the NLRB oversaw the process. Once balloting came to a close, members of the NLRB counted the votes and announced the outcome to employees. Voting took place on Wednesday, Dec. 10, and Thursday, Dec. 11. The results were made public about 10 p.m. on Thursday.
“From the beginning, our goal was to give employees the opportunity to vote on this issue in a fair, secret-ballot election. This has now been accomplished, and we will abide by the results of the election. We respect the decision and look forward to working with the union to negotiate a fair labor contract for our employees,” said Tim Schellpeper, president of Smithfield Packing Company.
The company employs about 4,500 individuals and pays a starting wage of $10 per hour with an average hourly wage of $12.26 per hour. The Tar Heel plant, which opened in 1992, is the largest pork processing plant in the world. The plant processes about 32,000 hogs per day.
The company expects to meet in the next 30 to 60 days to begin contract negotiations with the United Food and Commercial Workers representatives, said Pittman.
“We will look at what both sides want,” said Pittman.
Any agreements reached between the union and Smithfield will be done so through negotiation, Pittman added.
“Basically, this means we enter into negotiations as we have with unions at the other plants,” said Pittman.
Smithfield employees at eight of 13 plants are represented by unions and two other plants — Landover, Md. and Plant City, Fla.— are represented by the UFCW.
Two other attempts in recent years by the UFCW to unionize the Tar Heel facility have been unsuccessful. Pittman said the success of the union vote this time was based on the individual decision of each employee at the plant.
Mattie Fulcher, an employee at the Tar Heel facility for about nine years and who also observed the voting process, was elated at the outcome.
“We voted fairly. I can say this was one election that came out the way it was supposed to,” said Fulcher. “We needed a union.”
Fulcher said the union will bring a lot of positives to the company including better working conditions for employees and better health benefits.
She said the voting process was handled fairly by both sides, but the company did not want a union.
“I believe they’ll listen now,” said Fulcher of the company.
She described the atmosphere at the plant going into the elections as relaxed and employees as “ready to get it over with” in terms of the vote itself.