In an unusual move, the million-member United Food and Commercial Workers union yesterday ordered a defiant local union in Minnesota to end its bitter and highly publicized seven-month strike against the Geo. A. Hormel & Co. meatpacking firm.
"To continue to sanction or authorize the strike can only lead to further division, further suffering, and further loss of jobs of good union members," UFCW President William Wynn said in a "directive" to the Austin, Minn., local, whose militant strike prompted Gov. Rudy Perpich (D) to call out 800 National Guard troops.
Wynn, at a news conference here, said that he would take over the stalled negotiations and meet soon with Hormel executives in Minnesota. He said he hoped to win back the jobs of many of the more than 1,500 union members who have been replaced or fired in Austin and other Hormel plants since the strike began last August. But Hormel -- which hired 1,000 strike replacements including about 500 union members who crossed picket lines -- is now "fully staffed," said company Vice President Charles Nyberg. He said Hormel is willing to meet with Wynn, but is obligated by law to negotiate with UFCW Local P9 rather than the parent union, unless the local union agrees.
If the approximately 1,000 remaining Austin strikers make an "unconditional offer" to return to work, they will be placed on a "preferential hiring list" for future openings, Nyberg said.
A spokesman for UFCW Local P9 -- which started the strike against the wishes of the parent union -- said the local is "dismayed" by the directive, but had not yet decided whether to obey.
The Minnesota local struck Hormel's modern flagship plant in a dispute over pay, work rules and seniority rights after eight local UFCW unions around the country had accepted a $10-an-hour contract. Local P9 could be suspended or placed in trusteeship if it persists in striking, Wynn said.
The union, which has never before ordered a local to end a strike, will keep paying $40 to $60 weekly "post-strike" benefits to jobless members, but may stop payments if the strike continues, Wynn said.
"It would have been better to strike the whole company" at its plants around the nation, he said, rather than attempt a "suicidal" one-plant strike.
Hormel, which earns $2 billion a year on sales of Spam and other products, faces labor negotiations with five other UFCW locals this year, and Wynn said Hormel's refusal to rehire workers could create labor trouble at its other plants.