P-9, Hormel reflect on strike

Published 11:56 am Saturday, August 14, 2010

The following are statements sent by both the local P-9 and the Hormel Corporation, at the request of the Herald. The statements have only been minimally edited, and the opinions in them do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald as an organization.

Hormel Foods Corp.

As part of its 119-year history, the events of 1985 played a role in shaping Hormel Foods into what it is today.

We provide our employees with competitive wages and benefits for the jobs they do everyday. At Hormel Foods, we produce and market consumer-branded products that are among the best known and trusted in the food industry. Maintaining this reputation is the result of upholding our founder’s values for innovation, high quality and continuous improvement.

Email newsletter signup

Julie H. Craven
Vice President of corporate communications, Hormel Foods Corp

United Support Group, P-9

George and Jay Hormel weren’t greedy men. They grew a profitable meat processing business and they shared the profit with their workers through guaranteed annual wage, production and in incentive pay. They prospered, the workers made decent wages and the community of Austin was the envy of Minnesota and the country.

In the 1980s, new management with new ideas brought union-busting lawyers from Wisconsin two years before the strike to develop a plan to take away from the workers, give huge salaries and benefits to the CEO, and devastate the community of Austin. “If a town leaves behind a portion of its citizens, it will never be a community,” — Dr. Jack McConnel.

Hormel started by taking money from the workers to build a new plant. “If you don’t, we’re leaving town,” they threatened. (The workers) were also promised they would never make less in the new plant then they did in the old one, but when they transferred to the new plant, their incentive pay was lost and they immediately started making less. Before their contract came up in the mid-1980s, Hormel cut their wages by 23 percent and made workers pay back any medical coverage that had already been paid to them that year, this company that was very profitable needed to cut wages to be more profitable.

(The company was) able to do this with the help from the UFCW International Union. The UFCW had left out some language in their last contract and made a “sweatheart deal” with the company to bring wages and benefits down. Joe Hansen, UFCW said, “When Guyette talks about this solidarity s**t it makes me want to puke.” Seeing they would get no help from the International Union, (the local P-9) hired Ray Rogers of Corporate Campaign Inc. He brought inventive ideas that built a coalition of labor support from unions across the country and the world. This built support for the strikers and helped to feed families (Adopt-A-Family).

P-9 may have lost the strike, but Austin lost the war. Pete Winkels, P-9 business manager, said it best in a People’s Forum article in the Herald: “I take no joy in continuing with this strike. I look with sorrow at the atmosphere that engulfs our community. It has been with a lump in my throat that I have told people across the country not to buy the products that my family and friends and I had so much pride in making at one time. However, we are left without a choice, for who will remember the cries of the children if this is forgotten? Where will the pride that used to exist by working at George A. Hormel Co. come from? We the union want to work. We want a fair and just contract and we want our community to grow and prosper. Until you, Mr. Knowlton, and the other directors understand this, we shall have to continue our struggle, forever if necessary.”

Judy Himle
The United Support Group