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Michigan Turkey Producers Workers Reject Union Membership
Thursday, November 18, 2010


By Matt Vande Bunte

WYOMING -- Workers at Michigan Turkey Producers rejected union membership by a 4-to-1 margin. The United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 951 alleged that employees at two local turkey plants are subject to inconsistent wage schedules, inadequate job tools, on-the-job injuries, and verbal abuse from supervisors. But a Nov. 5 vote, certified this week by the National Labor Relations Board, was 316-82 against organizing.

"0When a vote is this overwhelming, it really kind of sends a message," said company President Dan Lennon. "There were a lot of what I consider to be false statements about the company (made by the union). I think people know the truth. "Either people believe in the company, or people just didn't want the union."

Michigan Turkey Producers is a co-op of 16 turkey farmers in Allegan, Barry, Kent and Ottawa counties. About 4.5 million birds are slaughtered and processed each year in a former French fries factory at 2140 Chicago Drive SW. The co-op cooks about 28 million pounds of meat annually at 1100 Hall St. SW. Lennon said the unionization effort prompted meetings with employees to discover workplace concerns. "We got a lot of things on the tables that were legitimate concerns," he said. "We are not perfect as an organization, and we have a ways to go to amend some things. We will improve those areas. "People need to know that they are empowered to raise their hand and tell us of an issue."

The union might try to rally the co-op's 400-plus production, maintenance, sanitation, and shipping and receiving workers again in 12 months if it feels that they still experience unfair conditions, said Chad Pemberton, a union representative. "That's kind of the benefit: If we don't get in the first time through an election process, the company has a lot more accountability," he said. "It wakes up the employer. At the end of the day, that's what we want, is for things to improve."

A lawsuit filed by workers remains in litigation. They claim they were not paid for the time required at work to put on and take off mandatory protective gear. Meanwhile, the co-op is spending $3.6 million increasing cooking capacity at its Hall Street plant. That expansion should add about 35 jobs.

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