Sunbelt meat packers strike for justice

Evaristo Garza

When Jesse Jackson came to Greeley, Colorado, on April 2, 2,000 peo­ple greeted him as he stood with striking workers from Monfort Portion Foods. The rally focused national attention on the five-month strike of 115 mostly Chicana meat packers, members of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 7.

Greeley is like many towns in the Southwest whose working people are largely Chicano. The town’s biggest employer and most powerful citizen is Ken Monfort, whose Greeley-based Women workers in Greeley take on ConAgra 1meat-packing empire includes a huge local packinghouse and feed lot, and Monfort Portion Foods.

Ken Monfort sits on the board of two local banks. He, along with his friends on the City Council, made a less than enthusiastic effort to bring a Budweiser plant into Greeley because the unionized brewery pays its workers twice what Monfort workers get. Economic violence and lack of political power for Chicano workers go hand in hand.

The current strike is part of a 15-year struggle. In 1975, Monfort Portion Foods work­ers struck and won a raise and better benefits, which led to other workers in town getting raises as well.  “When we beat him there, the whole com­munity gained,” Pablo Apodaca, a striker with 14 years in the plant, told Unity. Then, in 1979, the company broke the union at the packing­house, after a strike by its 1,000 workers.

Last May, the giant Con­Agra conglomerate bought out the entire Monfort operiationon. Striking against Con­Agra is “like David going against Goliath,” said Betty Hubbard, a Chicana shop steward with 17 years in the plant, to Unity.

But Mrs. Hubbard said the strikers’ ranks “are solid,” despite the company’s refusal to bargain. After years of crippling on-the-job injuries, a wage freeze on top of seven years without a raise, and a proposed increase in health care costs, they feel they have to fight.Sharon Hill, a single mother who works on the patty ma­chine, told Unity, “They hadus cutting up to 400 pounds an hour, and every six months or so they would increase our quota.”

“The cutters work elbow-to-elbow with knives and hooks,” added striker Steve Clasen. “The floors are cov­ered with blood and slick with fat. Women lift buckets weigh­ing 100 pounds or more. Ac­cidents are bound to happen.”

Winning support

Strikers and supporters have found creative ways to pressure ConAgra. When ConAgra head Charles Har­per came to Greeley for break­fast with Ken Monfort, women strikers organized a sit-down in front of the hotel and got arrested.

The union is discussing a national AFL-CIO boycott of restaurant chains, such as Red Lobster and Steak and Ale, which are largely sup­plied by Monfort Portion Foods steaks. Strikers have traveled to Denver to leaflet restaurant customers, and they will join an April 23 Jobs With Justice rally in Omaha, Nebraska, targeting ConAgra.

Strike support has come from parishes like St. Mary’s, St. Peter’s and Our Lady of Peace, and from senior cit­izens, students and the League of United Latin American Citizens, striker Patricia Me­lendez told Unity.

As striker Edward Sanchez said, “If everyone unites and sticks together we’ll all get somewhere ”

Please send donations andsupport letters to: MonfortStrikers, c/o UFCW Local2015 Second Ave., Greeley, CO 80631.