Southeast Iowa Meatpacking Workers Forming Union

Courtesy Catholic Messenger

Meatpacking workers in southeast Iowa are now—officially—gearing up to organize into labor unions at their respective workplaces.

Escucha Mi Voz organizer David Goodner confirmed the reporting by Luis Feliz Leon in an article published Monday in In These Times, a political and labor-focused magazine.

“With 1,400 workers at Tyson [Foods in Columbus Junction] and an estimated 600 at West Liberty [Foods], it would be the largest U.S. meatpacking drive since 2012,” Feliz Leon wrote.

Starting Line has written about Goodner and the work of Escucha Mi Voz before, as they organized meatpacking workers to advocate at their city council and county board meetings for pandemic relief given to other workers that largely left them out.

But while the organization is not explicitly organizing labor unions at the plants themselves, workers have been organizing, including signing cards indicating support for a potential union at both plants.

And on Saturday, dozens of meatpacking workers attended the Iowa Troublemakers School, a one-day conference in Iowa City put on by the nonprofit pro-worker Labor Notes. Goodner noted their presence was specifically about learning how to organize. (Feliz Leon, in the red sweatshirt in front, was also a speaker at the conference.)

An afternoon session called “Pandemic-Related Worker Fightbacks” even featured two meatpacking workers and Escucha Mi Voz members—Monica Avila of West Liberty Foods and Sylvia Juarez of Tyson Foods—who spoke about their organizing up to that point.

Both emphasized they got involved with Escucha Mi Voz to help people get the pandemic relief they needed and then began hearing about other ways to organize from there.

“I heard about a union, but I really didn’t have an idea of what it is,” Juarez said. “Nobody explained it. So I (wanted to) learn more.”

They certainly got an education Saturday.

The Iowa Troublemakers School featured burgeoning union organizers from the first Starbucks to organize in Iowa and from Englert Theatre workers who are already unionized, but without a contract, as well as new organizers coming into existing unions, like Hannah Zadeh, who is working with the University of Iowa graduate students.

It also featured speakers from unions that have had or will soon have, big contract fights—like Ross Grooters from Railroad Workers United, which nearly went on strike last fall, and Tanner Fischer from the Teamsters Local 90, which organizes UPS drivers in Des Moines and whose contract expires this summer.

Meatpacking workers have built the connections through their pandemic relief organizing, and are already being looked at as potential leaders for workplace unionizing.

“They know me, and they love me,” Juarez said of her fellow workers. “They say, ‘You’re number one!’ I try.”

As far as whether she’s concerned about what her bosses think? She’s more worried about those workers, who she said are overworked and underpaid.

“I’m not a troublemaker—I’m doing the right thing,” she said. “I told (the bosses) too many times, ‘All you worry about is the production. You have to worry about the people. We are the ones who make production—not you guys. We are.'”


by Amie Rivers

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