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JBS, union leaders must do more for employees

In a column written by John Spiegelhoff and Dale Moerke, titled “With unions, everyone benefits,” (Page 4) the concept of union workers bonding together to improve their wages, hours and working conditions is right. 

But it is not the union members, but the leaders who are being paid — very well, I might add — who negotiate a good contract and look after union members’ rights and workplace conditions.

Under our current leadership, I think we are going backward, not forward. Case in point: Shortly after we — the union members of Local UFCW 1160 — signed our last contract, our union leaders agreed with the company a few months later to open up the contract. The company could raise our out-of-pocket medical insurance from $3,000 to $5,000, and, in turn, we would get a 10-cent raise in pay.

That’s a whole $4 more per week based on a 40-hour week. What kind of union leaders would do such a thing to the hard-working people of JBS? Sadly enough, the decision to raise out-of-pocket expenses was voted on and passed unanimously.

Now try to understand — and I am only guessing — that approximately three-fourths of JBS’s workforce are possibly illiterate, have a limited education and might not speak or understand English, especially when it comes to contract wording.

So, they might not have the real understanding or knowledge about what they are really voting for. The UFCW knows this, so it is like leading sheep to slaughter.

I am sorry, but $4 a week more versus a possible $2,000 increase in out-of-pocket medical expenses — if, for example, you’re hospitalized — just does not add up. There should be a law against taking advantage of hard-working people like this. JBS will probably be laughing all the way to the bank on this deal, and maybe that’s one reason why they are the multibillion-dollar company that it is.

In my opinion, I think our local union (UFCW 1160) is becoming complacent in looking out for our (the employees’) best interests, and is acting more in the best interest of the employer and themselves.

Maybe there should be performance pay. If our union leaders do not perform for us, they are not paid. If this was Armour’s (anyone remember?), they would be shut down and run out of town for doing such a thing to the laborers (the backbone of the company).

JBS says they have “their people” come in, take workers off the line and ask what it would take to retain workers, because the turnover is so great.

Really? Let me see; low wages, hard work, nine- and 10-hour days, six days a week, and now the loss of benefits? Excuse me, but if they are dumb enough to ask those questions, then they are not smart enough to see the reality. The reality is they need to treat the employees — the hardworking people — right by increasing wages more than 10 cents per hour and not taking away their benefits.

JBS needs to go back and look at the days of Armours. During that period, there was a waiting list for those who wanted to work for the company. Armours was a company that cared enough about their people — their laborers — by providing them with great pay (for that time) and great benefits. If history speaks for itself, then you would think they would get a clue.

When JBS bought Swift & Co., we were told JBS was a family-oriented company. Boy, was that statement wrong.

In the years since, all I have seen is the employees’ medical benefits erode while the company makes record profits and management get bonuses.

Editor’s note: Terhark is from Worthington, Minn.