Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Meat Packing Industry Hit Hard by Years of Strikes

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Meat Packing Industry Hit Hard by Years of Strikes

Article excerpt

CUDAHY, Wis. - Patrick Cudahy brought meat packing to this sturdy blue-collar town about a century ago.

For decades, the town's name - his name - was a source of pride and jobs. Now it means strife.

For more than two months, workers have been on strike at the Cudahy pork plant. Outside the aging slaughterhouse, where newly hired workers wield knives under a din of machinery and squealing hogs, parka-bundled pickets march with placards.

"It pits brother against brother, neighbor against neighbor," said Lawrence Kelly, mayor of this Milwaukee suburb. "It's just not good for the community."

It's not good for towns all across the Midwest and Plains. In Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas and South Dakota, turmoil in meat packing and processing has closed plants, squeezed wages and on occasion, brought long and sometimes violent strikes.

So turbulent is this industry that the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union reports it led all others in the number of strikes, 158, from 1983 to 1986. About 40,000 workers have been affected, the union said.

And on Sunday, in South Sioux City, Iowa, nearly 2,300 United Food & Commercial Workers voted to strike immediately at the IBP Inc. meatpacking in nearby Dakota City. The vote came the day before a lockout was to end.

Two main factors are reshaping the pork and beef business: Americans are eating less meat, and some hard-nosed new entrants are turning competition fierce. The work force has shrunk by almost 25 percent since 1965. The number of plants has dwindled. Big companies are gobbling up bigger chunks of the market.

"There's a quiet upheaval" in meat packing, said Charles Levitt, senior livestock analyst with Shearson Lehman Brothers in Chicago.

In Cudahy and other towns across middle America, that means trouble. In this town of 19,300, the plant accounts for more than 10 percent of all jobs.

About 850 Cudahy workers have been on strike since Jan. 3. Cudahy wants to cut the hourly base wage for some workers from $9 to $6.25. Workers have agreed to two concessions since 1982. They say no more.

"How far can you go back? You can't make a living anymore," said Mark Rosenbaum, president of Local P-40 of the Food & Commercial Workers. …

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