In one of the largest union elections in Alabama in the past decade, workers at the Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant in Russellville voted last week by a better than two-to-one margin to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).
The main reason the 1,200 workers sought a union voice was to be able to exercise more control over their work lives, said workers and union leaders. Cheryl Kowalski, who works in the sanitation department at the plant, said:
We had no respect from management and absolutely no voice in anything that affected us. They told us what to do and when to do it, and there were no questions allowed. And if there were any problems, you couldn’t go to management because they did not want to deal with resolving them and workers here were left bitter and angry. The bottom line was “do what you are told or you don’t have a job.” But the union provided us with a glimmer of hope.
RWDSU Mid-South Council President John Whitaker said workers at Pilgrim’s Pride sought the right to redress grievances at work and the ability to have some input into how the place is run.
Organizer Randy Hadley said the company held weeks of captive audience meetings during which managers threatened massive layoffs and hinted at the possibility of plant closure if the workers voted for the union. The company also produced anti-union literature and “vote no” T-shirts.
They tried just about everything they could think of to disrupt this organizing campaign and scare the workers into voting, “No,” but they weren’t fooled. The workers at Pilgrim’s Pride wanted a change and they weren’t going to let these threats affect them.
RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said, “Unions may be under attack across the country, but working people still desperately need the security and dignity that comes with a union voice.”
The workers at Pilgrim’s Pride know they deserve better and have proven there is a better way. This resounding vote will be heard by poultry workers throughout the South as a message of hope.