Striking Tyson plant workers accept deal

Employees on strike against Tyson Foods since Feb 28, 2003, at the company's meat processing plant in Jefferson WI accepted a contract that preserves their union and jobs, but contains many wage and benefit concessions that spurred their walkout.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 538 approved the contract 293-70, according to the local's president, Mike Rice. He had advocated acceptance of the offer as the only way to keep the union intact.

Under federal labor law, replacement workers Springdale AR-based Tyson employed could have voted to decertify the union once the strikers had been off their jobs for a full year.

“We're not getting really what we wanted, but we need to keep the union,” said Bill Schmieder, 30, a Tyson worker for six years. “We're going to take our fight inside the plant.”

Tyson had wanted a four-year wage freeze; a lower wage scale for new employees; elimination of profit sharing; cuts in vacation time, sick leave, and pensions; and less comprehensive health care coverage. The meat processing giant obtained employee concessions in each of those areas.

Strikers spurned a Tyson offer January 11, but changed their minds after the firm agreed to rescind a clause that would have let it fire unionized employees who were not recalled to work within one year of the end of the strike.

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