Striking United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) members at a Brooks, Alberta, slaughterhouse, last Saturday called for attempted murder charges after a car crash that injured their union leader.
The mainly Sudanese workers at Lakeside Packers, owned by Arkansas-based, Tyson Foods, began a bitter strike for union recognition on October 12.
UFCW Local 401 President Doug O’Halloran was injured last Friday night in a three-vehicle collision near the entrance to Lakeside Packers.
He was treated and released from hospital but remained too stiff and sore Saturday to speak publicly.
UFCW representative Archie Duckworth said O’Halloran had bruises on his head and side and was unable to move his neck or arm.
Lakeside strikers alleged that O’Halloran’s sport utility vehicle was run off the road by plant managers.
Others said he crashed it while trying to avoid being served with legal papers, but Duckworth insisted O’Halloran was forced off the road by company officials.
He told reporters: ‘We know who did it. It is the employer and some of the high officials of the company who forced him off the road.
‘And we are for sure asking the police to charge them with attempted murder.’
Canadian police said five people were arrested after the incident and remained in custody Saturday, but no charges had been laid. No further details were given as to their identity.
Jeanne Barns, one of about 200 strikers picketing outside the plant Saturday, said the incident has incensed union members.
Barns said: ‘It is Lakeside management that is violent. They’re wanting us to retaliate, but I got a message to them: “We’re better than you guys. We’re not going to be violent. We’re here to prove a point, and we’re going to do it peacefully”.’
Another striker, Edil Hussan, added: ‘How would you feel if your president was crushed and they tried to kill him?
‘The violence was supposed to be a reaction from the picketers, but the violence is coming from the company.’
Only hours before the collision, O’Halloran called on the Alberta government to force Tyson Foods into binding arbitration ‘before someone gets seriously hurt.’
But Alberta Premier Ralph Klein said he didn’t have the power to make such an order.
Friday was the third day of incidents at Lakeside, where UFCW members are trying to secure a first contract.
The company applied for a court injunction on Saturday to limit the number of pickets to 50 at any one time and prevent them from stopping vehicles as they enter or leave the premises.
The Alberta Labour Relations Board has already issued an order to that effect, but the RCMP say they don’t have the authority to enforce it because it is a civil order.
UFCW rep. Duckworth accused the company of trying to provoke the union in order to bolster its case in court.
He said: ‘The best way is to say to the judge, “Violence has escalated and we need an injunction”.’
UFCW National Director Michael J. Fraser stepped up his call for Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin to facilitate a resolution ‘before someone gets killed’, in the wake of three picketers and the union’s local president all being hospitalised after being attacked by Tyson company personnel.
En route to visit O’Halloran last Saturday, Fraser alleged: ‘On Thursday three picketers ended up in hospital after they were viciously outnumbered and beaten by Lakeside managers.
‘And now they attempt to murder the President of the local union by ramming his car off the road.
‘Premier Klein has said he’s not prepared to intervene. Then let Prime Minister Martin show leadership and use his power to facilitate a resolution.
‘Tyson’s Lakeside Packers is a federally licensed and inspected plant. Tyson’s tactics have created an explosive situation.
‘This is not the Wild West or the Old South. Assault and attempted murder are not acceptable bargaining tactics.’
It was the second time this week Fraser has called on the Prime Minister to get involved.
UFCW said Arkansas-based Tyson Foods, the owners of Lakeside Packers, forced the strike after rejecting a settlement drafted by a mediator appointed by the Alberta government to facilitate a first-contract agreement.
UFCW Canada says the more than 2,300 workers, at Lakeside, many of them who are refugees from the Sudan, have been forced onto the streets and onto picket lines in a battle to preserve a decent standard of living.
It adds: ‘Workers at the Brooks plant stood up for a voice with the UFCW Local 401 in August, 2004, eager for basic workplace protections such as an end to harassment, improved safety training, and better handling of biological hazards.
‘More than 600 Sudanese immigrant workers were lured to Alberta with the promise of a good job and bright future.
‘Tyson’s disregard for the basic safety needs of its workforce, immigrant and native, is reprehensible.
‘Picket lines went up on October 12, 2005 after Tyson Foods threw out a proposal by a mediator appointed by the Alberta government to facilitate a first-contract agreement.’
Joseph T. Hansen, UFCW International President said: ‘UFCW members and Tyson workers in the United States stand firmly in support of our Canadian brothers and sisters as they stand up against Tyson.
‘We are committing every resource available to support our striking workers in Alberta on the frontlines.’
UCFW said last Friday: ‘Provincial law enforcement officers stood by yesterday as replacement workers and management verbally and physically assaulted Sudanese workers with racially-motivated jeers and anti-immigrant insults.
‘Several strikers were reportedly beaten with metal pipes, left injured in a ditch before being transported to the hospital.’
Hansen alleged: ‘Tyson recruits workers from all over the world to bring them to work in their North American operations in a race to the bottom.
‘Exploitation of a vulnerable immigrant workforce is part of their business plan.
‘Now, it is particularly galling to see that the Tyson is allowing racially-motivated violence to take place on the picket line.’
The UFCW alleged: ‘Tyson’s behaviour in Alberta follows a pattern it sets in the United States – doing everything in its power to lower wages, cut benefits and reduce workplace standards for employees, particularly immigrant workers.
‘In 2003, Tyson forced long-time meat processing workers in Jefferson, Wisconsin onto picket lines for nearly one year in order to lower wage and benefit levels for unionised workers in the United States.
‘In this instance, Tyson’s message to the black immigrant workforce is clear: “we brought you to this continent so that we can pay you less than native workers”.
‘Tyson Foods is the Wal-Mart of the meat industry – dominating 27 per cent of all beef, pork and chicken sales in the US.
‘But size doesn’t give it the excuse to drag workers’ wages, health care benefits, and workplace standards to the even lower levels.
‘The company carries very little debt and share prices have increased by 25 per cent in the last year.
‘Tyson has no financial need to demand sub-standard wage and benefit levels for workers in the US or Canada.’
UFCW members in the US marched and leafletted in support of the strikers at the Millions More Movement on the National Mall in Washington, DC last Saturday.