South Dakota pork plant, labor union reach 4-year agreement

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The union that had threatened a strike at a Smithfield pork processing plant in South Dakota says it has reached a tentative agreement with the company on a four-year contract.

The Sioux Falls chapter of the United Food and Commercial Workers had negotiated with Virginia-based Smithfield Foods for two days after union members rejected a previous contract proposal and authorized a strike. Union leaders said its members will vote on the proposed contract next week.

The agreement appeared to assuage the possibility of a strike at the plant, which produces nearly 5% of the nation’s pork every day.

UFCW said in a statement late Wednesday that the company dropped plans to take away a 15-minute break and “the parties have reached an agreement on wages.”

The union had pressed for Smithfield to boost pay from a proposed base wage of $18 an hour, as well as keep a break during the second half of worker shifts. Smithfield has said its initial proposal would have still ensured two 15-minute breaks for employees who work eight-hour shifts and that the company’s offer was “in full alignment” with agreements that the UFCW accepted at other locations.

But workers were emboldened after a virus outbreak at the plant last year killed four workers and infected nearly 1,300. They also argued Smithfield should match the wages offered at a JBS pork processing plant 70 miles (113 kilometers) away in Worthington, Minnesota.