CUDAHY, WIS. -- The future of Smithfield Foods Inc.'s Patrick Cudahy Inc. meatpacking plant, which is operating with replacement workers while union strikers remain on the picket line, may be decided by the end of the year, officials said.
The plant, which is near Milwaukee, has been on strike for 11 months.
Alan T. Anderson, president of Arlington, Va.-based Smithfield Foods, said the decision to keep operating rests with Cudahy President Roger Kapella. "Sometime between now and the end of the year," Kapella will determine the "long-term viability" of the plant, Anderson said last week.
Anderson was president of Cudahy for two years until he became Smithfield president in July 1986.
When "evaluations are completed, a decision well be rendered," Kapella said. "Until then, its business as usual."
Company officials said last year that they were having problems marketing the plant's packaged pork products against the price competition of other companies.
After they insisted that workers at the plant accept wage cutbacks, about 800 members of United Food and Commercial Workers Local P-40 walked out Jan. 4.
The plant now is operating with about 800 replacement workers, 175 white-collar employes and 20 clerical workers who cross the strikers' picket lines.
If Kapella decides the plant is "not profitable and it can't survive," he said, "we'll have to explore other options. Whatever we do will be a business decision."
The decision rests with Kapella because Cudahy is an "autonomous business and that's how we operate all our businesses," Anderson said.
"We're looking at every avenue to make this plant work," Kapella said.
The price paid to hog farmers has a lot to do with keeping the plant profitable, he said. In the past three months, the price of hogs declined to $41.50 per hundredweight from $62, he said. "This has helped the entire pork industry," Kapella said.
Anderson said the strike has hindered the plant, as had pressure from an AFL-CIO boycott of Cudahy bacon and other products.