Tyson Foods workers in Van Buren seek better treatment as plant closes

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 745 views 

Tyson Foods employees and supporters gathered Monday (April 10) near the company’s Van Buren plant to protest against what they claim is unfair treatment during their final weeks working at the processing plant set to close May 12.

Springdale-based Tyson Foods sent 969 employees of the Van Buren plant WARN letters on March 13 saying the last day of operation is slated for May 12. Tyson Foods did not provide details regarding benefits or options for displaced workers. The company at the time said it’s working with employees to provide opportunities for relocations where applicable within the company. Tyson also will close its Glen Allen, Va., plant on May 12, which will result in 692 jobs lost.

The Van Buren protest was organized by Venceremos, an Arkansas-based group that advocates for better conditions for poultry industry workers. The group and some Tyson employees allege that the company has threatened to fire employees who attempt to use vacation time or sick leave, and is not providing full payment of unused vacation time. They also say “many workers” have left the plant since the closing was announced, and company leaders are forcing remaining workers to cover multiple jobs.

Venceremos said employees are making four demands.
• Equal treatment compared to supervisors and corporate employees, who will receive a severance package based on years of employment, while workers on the production floor receive no severance.
• Full payout of unused vacation time at the end of employment.
• Full accountability for workers’ compensation claims.
• Fair working conditions. Workers are forced to risk their health to cover multiple jobs without proper compensation.

“Tyson is treating its workers as disposable, denying them the pay they are owed and the basic respect they deserve, not only as employees but as humans,” Magaly Licolli, Venceremos executive director, said in a statement. “These frontline workers who are being exploited are mostly people of color. Many have been working for 10 or even 20 years, but they aren’t offered the same severance package as the majority white corporate employees. The frontline staff are working harder than ever, in even more dangerous conditions, to make up for understaffing, but they are only being treated worse in return. It’s time to hold Tyson accountable for fair pay and treatment.”

Tyson spokesman Derek Burleson said employees are being “paid in full” for any unused vacation or holiday time. He also said the company is offering employees relocation assistance, and helping them find jobs in other Tyson plants. He also said the protest is not a strike and the plant is operating.

“We realize this is a difficult situation and supporting our affected team members is our top priority. We’ve been in regular communication with our Van Buren team to ensure they have resources and assistance available to them, including a $1,000 stay on bonus for all team members who remain with Tyson Foods until the plant closes,” Burleson noted in a statement. “We’re working closely with state and local officials, including the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services and others, to connect all team members who choose not to relocate with resources available to them in their local community, including coordinating an upcoming job fair with more than 40 potential employers.”

Officials with the Van Buren Chamber of Commerce and University of Arkansas at Fort Smith have organized efforts to help the Tyson workers.