The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), the “nativist lobby’s independent think tank which has never found any aspect of immigration it likes,” has come out with a new report claiming that immigration raids “boost” union organizing. The author, Jerry Kammer, comes to the counter-intuitive conclusion that the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) won its 15-year-long unionizing battle at Smithfield Food’s largest hog processing plant in Tar Heel, NC thanks to ramped-up enforcement measures and immigration raids conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2007.
Kammer’s glaring lack of labor history knowledge coupled with the anti-immigrant mission of his employer can serve as the only possible explanations for his gross misrepresentation of what happened at Smithfield between 1994 and 2009. The UFCW’s organizing win was not the result of immigration raids, but rather a bitter labor struggle that unified the workforce and culminated in a game-changing legal dispute:
1994 & 1997: The UFCW loses its first two elections amidst allegations of widespread coercion, intimidation, and targeted layoffs.
2000: The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issues a decision finding massive violations of labor laws on behalf of Smithfield.
2004: The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirms the 2000 decision, finding that Smithfield had engaged in “intense and widespread” coercion in both elections. Smithfield agrees to hold a third union election, but the UFCW argues that the company should recognize card-check organizing instead.
2007: Smithfield files a federal lawsuit against the UFCW, accusing the union of libel and slander.
2008: When the suit is settled, both parties agree to another closely supervised election which the UFCW wins 2,041 to 1,879.
2009: Nearly 7 months after the union win, Tar Heel workers ratify their first union contract.
Kammer is also apparently ignorant to the well-known fact that immigration raids have more often been the bane of a union organizer’s existence. Following the Smithfield immigration raids, union officials claimed that Smithfield had collaborated with ICE authorities to discourage its workers from organizing. Smithfield’s immigrant intimidation tactics were also extensively documented in a Human Rights Watch report as having been used to crush union organizing efforts. Union organizer Eduardo Peña compared the Smithfield immigration raids to a “nuclear bomb.” Ultimately, the immigration measures backfired on Smithfield. In 2006, over 300 workers walked out in protest of the company’s immigration tactics. The success of the workplace action impressed African American workers and fueled increased unity between them and Latino workers.
It’s true that immigrant workers — both documented and undocumented — are difficult to organize. However, it’s a problem that could be solved more cheaply and more effectively with mechanisms like the ones provided in the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which make it harder for employers to intimidate workers that are trying to organize.
The UFCW couldn’t comment on Kammer’s report due to the Smithfield lawsuit settlement which prevents them from discussing the terms of the organizing process. However, they weren’t too fond of Kammer’s last report which also advocated for increased immigration raids and enforcement-only solutions from a deceptively pro-labor perspective.