More than two dozen college students staged a “high-tech protest” at the Biltmore Forest Harris-Teeter store on June 9. The protest was called by the United Food and Commercial Workers, which has organized a boycott of pork produced by Smithfield Packing, whose Tar Heel, N.C., hog slaughterhouse is the largest in the U.S. The union alleges that the 5,000 workers in the plant are subjected to dangerous, unhealthy conditions. The company has been cited by Human Rights Watch for violating international human-rights standards. UFCW alleges that “Smithfield Packing has created an environment of intimidation, racial tension, and sometimes violence for workers who want a voice on the job.”
Smithfield says the allegations aren’t true, and that it has numerous programs geared toward protecting employees. “Smithfield Foods senior management has consistently communicated on-the-job safety as a top priority,” the company’s Web site says. “The company’s goal is to achieve top-tier performance and set the livestock production and meat industry standard for keeping workers safe and healthy on the job.”
The students who participated in the Biltmore Forest protest are summer interns with Student Action with Farmworkers, a nonprofit organization whose mission “is to bring students and farmworkers together to learn about each other’s lives, share resources and skills, improve conditions for farmworkers, and build diverse coalitions working for social change.”
UCFW and SAF have called on Harris Teeter to stop carrying Smithfield products, which include the store’s HT brand bacon. Organizer Isabell Moore told Xpress, “We targeted Harris Teeter because it is a North Carolina-based chain and we felt they might be responsive to our request.” The protest was “high-tech” because the students used cell phones to call the store manager, the meat department and the corporate president while they were picketing on a public sidewalk beyond the store’s property line.
Asked about the matter, Harris Teeter sent Xpress a press release citing the numerous grocery chains that carry Smithfield products. The release read, in part: “Issues that may arise between Smithfield, their employees and labor organizations must be resolved between and among those respective parties. Harris Teeter respects employees’ rights to engage in concerted and union activities or, likewise, to refrain from doing so. The National Labor Relations Board has procedures designed to resolve these types of issues between companies and their employees, and we believe it would be inappropriate for Harris Teeter to insert itself into that process.”
— Cecil Bothwell, staff writer