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Obama to Beef Northwest: We Want You Unionized PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steve Dittmer   
Thursday, 04 September 2008
AFF Sentinel Vol.5#37

Presidential Candidate Envisions Unionized U.S. Agriculture

If you're a cattle feeder, did you know that Barack Obama wants to help you run your operation?

Believe it. Obama sent a letter to a Northwestern feedyard expressing his wish that employees at all their feedyards be unionized and emphasizing his support for unionization of all American farm operations.

You may recall the AFF Sentinel of 6/20/08 (Sen. V5#28,"Union Deploys Vicious Methods on Natural Beef Program & Feedyard"), revealing the United Farm Workers' (UFW) exploitation of a loophole in Oregon law to attempt pressuring Whole Foods and Country Natural Beef into a secondary boycott of Beef Northwest. Beef Northwest is a cattle-feeding company based out of North Powder, Or. The UFW had pressured Whole Foods into insisting that Country Natural - which sold a large share of its beef to Whole Foods -- had to feed its cattle in a unionized feedyard.

When the union had taken a delegation to Whole Foods' Austin, Texas headquarters to apply pressure, only one of Beef Northwest's 150 employees could be persuaded to go along.

The crux of the issue is that in most states, employees have the right to a secret ballot in voting whether to join a union. That traditional right to a secret ballot is now a key target of union organizers. They want Congress to pass federal legislation allowing union organizers to use a simple "card check" campaign instead of a secret ballot election.

In a card check campaign, union organizers can approach an employee at work, at his home or elsewhere and pressure him into signing a card in front of them - no privacy and no secret ballot. The union is not required to have the employer's participation nor even alert the employer to their activities or pressure.

Card check legislation is a priority for both the Democrat party and candidate Barack Obama. That's why he's interested in the Beef Northwest saga.

Beef Northwest has indicated it would abide by the wishes of its employees in a truly neutral election monitored by a qualified third party. Instead, the union had a "party" for employees, complete with various free mood-altering substances, to lean on them to sign union authorization cards. The union refused to allow employees who, upon sober reflection, later wanted to withdraw their card.

But those kinds of tactics evidently are fine with Obama. His letter to John Wilson at Beef Northwest said in part:

"I encourage you to recognize the card check election of June 13, and to negotiate with your employees' chosen bargaining agent, the United Farm Workers. Your prompt attention to this issue is greatly appreciated, and I look forward to hearing from you soon."

A UFW statement referred to the card check party as a "free and fair election" - failing to explain that no secret ballot election had taken place at all. They've also refused to show the signed cards to Beef Northwest.

Instead, the union was attempting to capitalize on Obama's letter to pressure Beef Northwest.

"If this election is good enough for who [sic] we expect to be the next president of the United States, it should be good enough for Beef Northwest," Steve Witte said. He is UFW Pacific Northwest director of strategic campaigns. The statement also quoted Obama's letter that he "is committed to the ability of our nation's agricultural workers to organize ... "

Part of AFF's mission is to remind livestock industry folks that politics, while not the favorite interest of many producers, can have a critical impact on their business. We've discussed the impact of party politics on Supreme Court nominations and their impact on rulings involving the Endangered Species Act, private property rights and EPA regulations. The change in party majority in both houses of Congress in 2006 changed leadership and committee chairmen and drastically affected this past year's Farm Bill debate.

Washington observers say both the Farm Bill and mCOOL legislation could well be re-opened in the next Congress.

As the election bears down upon us, AFF will provide food for thought regarding both the presidential and Congressional elections and their potential impact on the livestock business.

Meantime, Beef Northwest sits tight, hoping for a fair and reasonable outcome of a difficult situation not of their own making. They certainly did not expect to become an illustration of what Obama as president would like to see for U.S. agriculture.

Click here to view Obama's signed letter

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Last Updated ( Friday, 12 September 2008 )
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