Waterloo Tyson union disputes claims of inaction during pandemic


Sydney Czyzon, The Courier (IA)

Jan 7, 2021


WATERLOO The union representing Tyson Foods workers had an attorney send letters Tuesday to Waterloo officials disputing accusations that union officials were largely absent for workers during COVID-19.


The letter said the UFCW Local 431 "took significant actions" to advocate for Tyson meatpacking workers during the pandemic. It said their actions include pursuing a grievance process for breaches of the union contract, securing safety improvements, demanding an investigation of Tyson managers and calling for accountability.


The letter, sent via email, was obtained by The Courier through an open records request. The document was sent to Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart and Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson. Hart forwarded the message to County Health Department Director Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye, records show. It is unknown whether other officials received the letter.


Thompson called the letter a move by UFCW Local 431 to cover its possible inaction.


"It was a little actually telling because they're placating the same officials here in Black Hawk County that corporate Tyson is trying to placate right now," Thompson said. "They're using the same playbook that corporate Tyson is using, which I thought was kind of weird."


Attorney Jay Smith from Smith & McElwain Law Offices, based in Sioux City, sent the letter on behalf of UFCW Local 431. Smith, UFCW Local 431 President Bob Waters and Recorder Samuel Stokes did not respond to requests for interviews Thursday.


The letter was sent days after a Jan. 3 Courier article in which Tyson workers, long-time unionists and community organizers expressed dissatisfaction with UFCW Local 431 representation during the pandemic. The letter said the "overall thrust of the article" lacked merit. The Courier attempted to reach UFCW Local 431 officials for interviews dozens of times over two months before publishing the story.


The efforts of UFCW International are detailed in the letter, which was provided to The Courier after the initial story about UFCW Local 431 was published. They include that the international organization criticized the reopening of meatpacking plants like the one in Waterloo, called on Tyson to change its attendance policies in response to COVID-19 and implement safety measures...


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