At a pair of cooked meat and poultry processing plants in Woodburn and Silverton, Oregon, a group of 284 mostly immigrant workers will remain nonunion. A July 26 election, conducted at BrucePac by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), resulted in 57 votes for joining Laborers Local 296, and 189 against.
The union effort was led by a group of BrucePac workers, with support from Local 296 business agent Jack Roy and Spanish-speaking dispatcher Dagoberta Aranda. To oppose the campaign, BrucePac employed the nationally-known anti-union law firm Jackson Lewis, and held over a month of workplace “classes” which were led by Spanish-speaking anti-union consultants.
Ironically, BrucePac was the test case in a 2010 federal court lawsuit in which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce tried to strike down the Worker Freedom Act — a 2009 Oregon law which bans mandatory anti-union meetings. The law makes it illegal for employers to discipline workers for refusing to attend such meetings. No workers were disciplined for refusing attendance at BrucePac, but lawyers for the company and the Chamber argued that their free speech rights were infringed because they held off holding the mandatory meetings. U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mosman tossed out the lawsuit, saying the plaintiffs were premature to sue before any worker had made use of the law. In the event, BrucePac appears to have complied with the law that the meetings not be mandatory. Aranda, the Local 296 dispatcher, said workers were afraid to refuse attendance. But several workers did refuse, and weren’t disciplined.
Aranda said he was surprised by the election result. Workers had motive to want a union, including management mistreatment and wages of $9.50 to $14 an hour — for hard work in very hot and cold work environments.
“Out of all the places I’ve ever heard of, this place really deserves a union,” Aranda said.
But on June 29, 2009, three weeks after an initial meeting with the union, BrucePac laid off 17 union supporters, nearly every worker who had attended the meeting. Local 296 filed a flurry of charges with the NLRB, and a federal administrative law judge ordered reinstatement and back pay for three of the workers after a February 2010 trial. BrucePac complied with the order, and two workers accepted reinstatement. But the company also appealed the judge’s decision to the full Board in Washington, DC. Two years later, the case is still pending.
In the meantime, Local 296 stayed in touch with pro-union workers at the company, and on June 19, requested the union election.
Local 296 filed an unfair labor practice charge protesting company removal of union literature from a bulletin board, but later withdrew the charge.
Several weeks before the vote, “Union No” stickers were so common in the workplace that Aranda says he advised pro-union workers to wear the stickers as well, to take the pressure off. But Aranda said one known pro-union worker had her truck windows smashed the day she put a sticker on.
Aranda also thinks the company may have had union staff followed: Workers told him that a video shown during the anti-union meetings included images of Aranda at a bar and Local 296 business manager Ken Morgan at an airport, with consultants insinuating that member dues permit union leaders to live the high life. Consultants also reportedly warned that unionizing could lead to strikes, and that strikes could cost workers their jobs.
Looking at the vote count, Aranda says it’s clear the consultant strategies worked.
“They had more time and money and were willing to do whatever it took to make sure it didn’t happen,” Aranda said.