Thursday, April 13, 2006

Meatpacker Wildcat in Kansas

Workers won't face penalties for protests at Excel plant
Associated Press

Several hundred workers briefly walked off the job at a Dodge City meatpacking plant Tuesday after company officials disciplined employees for missing work to protest proposed federal immigration laws a day earlier, union leaders said.

Just before the lunch hour, about 600 workers left the line and filed into the Excel Corp. cafeteria, saying they would not work if the company sanctioned some employees for attending Monday's immigration rally, an official with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 2 said.

Excel spokesman Mark Klein said he "didn't want to get into" whether the company had attempted to discipline or suspend employees at the southwest Kansas plant. He and union representatives said that after several hours of negotiations, the two sides agreed workers wouldn't be penalized for skipping work to demonstrate against legislation that would make it a felony to illegally enter the United States.

Ford County Sheriff Dean Bush said the plant's security director called earlier Tuesday requesting help. Three officers were sent to the plant, and dozens of highway troopers assembled to handle any possible disturbance, law enforcement officials said.

Union officials said members walked off the line because they felt some workers were being unfairly punished, since Excel had stated publicly that workers wouldn't be penalized for attending the protests.

Excel, the nation's second-largest beef processor, said the plant was fully operating Tuesday afternoon.

"We had a number of discussions today to work through," Klein said. "As we move forward we're going to work together to handle any future events around immigration reform."

Klein said the company's contract with the union allows Excel to sanction employees for taking a personal day if they exceed their allotted number of absences. He said Monday the immigration rally in Dodge City had contributed to a slowdown in production, but that the company would take no adverse action against its workers.

Several meatpacking plants across the country - including Creekstone Farms Premium Beef in Arkansas City and three Tyson plants in Iowa and Nebraska - shut down production lines or closed entirely Monday because workers went to the rallies.

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