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Smithfield drops RICO suit against union, OKs union vote

A high-profile civil RICO suit against organized labor has been settled, just as a judge was to begin hearing the case in Federal District Court in Richmond, Va.

Smithfield Foods is dropping its racketeering and extortion suit against the United Food and Commercial Workers and will agree to allow a union election at its pork processing plant in Tar Heel, N.C. In exchange, UFCW will end its corporate campaign against the company. (Raleigh News and Observer story; Associated Press.) Beyond issuing a joint statement, the two sides have been told by the judge not to comment until after the union vote, whenever that might be.

Smithfield workers rejected organizing votes in 1994 and 1997, and labor has sought to make the company the blackest of its business bete noires. (Black Forest Ham?) The UFCW's corporate campaign was very aggressive, even by labor's usual standards -- alleging human rights violations, and more -- and Smithfield pushed back on all fronts. (The company estimates the corporate campaign cost it $900 million.) The suit was being closely watched for its potential precedent-setting value. Wackenhut's civil suit against the SEIU was another prominent example of business turning to RICO; more recently, CINTAS Corp. filed a RICO suit against Change to Win.

Guess we'll get our RICO precedents elsewhere.

For more background and documents, see below.

In May, Judge Robert Payne rejected the union's motion to dismiss the suit as frivolous, finding sufficient evidence to point to the union's organized effort to extort from Smithfield the right to conduct business as a non-union business. (Payne's opinion is here as a .pdf file.)

Included in the union's campaign is a website, www.smithfieldjustice.com/" (now down), and an ongoing advertising push in the D.C. area, including ads in Metro buses. (Here's a photo.)

Smithfield had never been not shy about defending itself in the PR wars, either, as you can see from its targeted website, SmithfieldFacts. More background...

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.