D.C. COUNCIL

2 Democrats Back Boycott of Smithfield

"Our work here is to make Smithfield uncomfortable," said D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, left, shown with now-Chairman Vincent C. Gray.
"Our work here is to make Smithfield uncomfortable," said D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, left, shown with now-Chairman Vincent C. Gray. (2006 Photo By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
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By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 20, 2008

Two D.C. Council members offered their support yesterday as union organizers, religious leaders and other area politicians launched a boycott against Smithfield Foods, a major meat producer, saying the company had mistreated and fired workers who complained of job-related injuries at its Tar Heel, N.C., processing plant.

"Our work here is to make Smithfield uncomfortable," council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) said in an interview. Mendelson is drafting a resolution that condemns the company, which also has a plant in Prince George's County, for its labor practices, supports a boycott and calls on the company to allow the North Carolina plant workers to unionize. Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) is also supporting the effort.

"We honestly believe that when people know of the atrocity that's taking place down in Smithfield, North Carolina, they'll show compassion and won't buy Smithfield up in Washington, D.C.," said the Rev. Jarvis Johnson, co-pastor of New Prospect Family Praise and Worship Center in the District and a campaign co-coordinator.

When Sade Morris started to feel pain in her hands last year from working as a pork cutter at the Tar Heel plant, she went to the company clinic. "They would put an ice pack or a heat pack on my hand, and they'd tell me to do hand exercises," said Morris, who was in the District yesterday for the protest. The treatment "didn't work," Morris said, but her supervisors told her to return to work. Her doctor told her that she had developed carpal tunnel syndrome and would need surgery.

In mid-March, "Smithfield fired me two days before I had surgery," Morris said, terminating her medical insurance and leaving her with "almost $7,000" in medical bills. Morris said that her hands still hurt, that she was seeing a physical therapist and that she was still under orders from her doctor not to lift more than 15 pounds.

Sen. David Harrington (D-Prince George's), who was also at yesterday's protest, said, "I think that bringing some attention to the situation will help out the workers in North Carolina." Last year, as a Prince George's County Council member, Harrington got a resolution passed condemning the plant's practices. The Smithfield plant in Harrington's district is unionized.

"I would hope that Smithfield will be compelled for the sake of their workers and sit down at the Prince George's plant and see how a union shop ought to work," he said.

Smithfield spokesman Dennis Pittman said yesterday that his company is a fair employer that doesn't oppose organized labor. The company welcomes a National Labor Relations Board "secret ballot election," he said. "As far as anyone being fired for any injury, that is certainly is untrue."

Staff writer Darryl Fears contributed to this report.


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