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FARM WORKERS LOOK TO CALIFORNIA GOV. DAVIS
TO SIGN REFORM LEGISLATION DESIGNED
TO FORCE GROWERS, UNION
TO ABIDE BY ARBITRATED CONTACT
NANCY CLEELAND, LOS ANGELES TIMES: When a young mushroom picker named Jose Garcia defied his employer and voted to join the United Farm Workers 27 years ago, he figured he'd done the hard part. The wage hikes, health benefits and job security promised by labor hero Cesar Chavez in a bruising campaign were sure to be just around the corner.
But Garcia, now 46, said he earns less in inflation-adjusted dollars than he did as a teenager. His medical care is limited to what he can get at the local emergency room. And the security he longed for is still elusive.
Like thousands of other agricultural workers in California, Garcia is in labor limbo: technically represented by a union but not covered by a contract. "We try to bargain," said Garcia, a member of the union negotiating team at the Pictsweet Mushroom Farm in Oxnard. "They take our proposals and laugh."
A bill on Gov. Gray Davis' desk would put the impasse at Pictsweet and several others like it in the hands of an arbitrator, who could force the parties into a contract and dictate its terms. The measure would be the first of its kind in the nation.
Tennessee-based United Foods Inc., which owns Pictsweet, did not return repeated phone calls last week. The firm has declined to publicly comment on the arbitration bill or the company's labor issues in the past months. About a year ago, officials said that their workers receive wages and benefits comparable to those paid at other mushroom farms.
Growers adamantly oppose the bill, saying arbitration for an initial contract is unconstitutional, unfair and economically dangerous. "We have 80,000 farms in the state," said Thomas Nassif, president of the Western Growers Assn. "Are we going to change our laws because the union can't get a contract with a couple of employers?"
Davis, who is running for reelection, has not indicated whether he will sign the bill into law. He must act within 12 days. The UFW plans to maintain a vigil outside the state Capitol until Davis acts, and union co-founder Dolores Huerta has vowed to start a public fast if the governor vetoes the bill.
First contracts are notoriously tough for any union to negotiate, but the UFW says it is at a particular disadvantage because so much farm work is seasonal and transient. Union spokesman Marc Grossman said the numbers speak for themselves: Of the 428 elections won by the union since the state's Agricultural Labor Relations Act became law in 1975, only 158 --- 37% --- resulted in contracts.
Grower organizations say those numbers are deceptive, because some businesses went bankrupt before a contract could be reached, and workers at others voted to decertify the union. They also note that state law already provides a "make whole" remedy, which forces growers to compensate workers if contracts are not negotiated in good faith.
Since 1975, the Agricultural Labor Relations Board has ordered 58 employers to pay about $34 million under that provision. Only $4.4 million has been paid, according to a recent report from board Chairwoman Genevieve A. Shiroma. In her report to state Sen. Mike Machado (Dem.-Linden), Shiroma said the language of the original law makes enforcement difficult and susceptible to years of litigation.
In agriculture, long-term employment is rare. But mushroom farms provide year-round work and an opportunity to set down roots. That was a draw for Garcia, who took the job at Pictsweet 30 years ago as a 17-year-old immigrant from Mexico. He married, bought a small two-bedroom house, started a family. He showed younger workers how to pick through the dark mushroom beds stacked to the ceiling, lights strapped to their foreheads, suspended on safety lines "like monkeys."
Along with a majority of the farm's 150 workers, he voted for the union in 1975, three months after the state agricultural labor law was adopted in a wave of elections that followed a 1,000-mile march through the state by Chavez. Several months later, the company and workers signed a contract providing paid family medical insurance and incremental raises. "The 12 years we had with them were very good," he recalled.
But after a series of ownership changes, the company was bought out of bankruptcy in 1987 by United Foods Inc. Workers agreed to temporarily suspend the union contract and take a pay cut to help the business survive. Since then, Garcia said, sporadic attempts to revive the contract have ended in frustration. "If it weren't for my wife's job, forget it, I wouldn't be able to survive," said Garcia, who earns about $350 in an average week. "We have no savings, nothing. We have enough to eat, but we're always just getting by."
In his view, company attorneys have merely gone through the motions of negotiating while holding down wages to 1987 levels. He said they had no intention of making a deal. Union officials said that relatively few employers practice insincere "surface bargaining" but that those who do drain resources. Until a contract is signed, workers pay no union dues.
"At Pictsweet, we have to spend half a million a year to fight this guy," said UFW President Arturo Rodriguez. "If you do this with every single employer, you're going to run out of money fast." The difficulty of obtaining contracts, and with them gains in wages and benefits, also dampens enthusiasm for organizing, Rodriguez said. A binding arbitration law "at least gives us an opportunity to get out there and get started," he said.
Once more than 100,000 strong, UFW membership now hovers at about 27,000. While the UFW views arbitration as a boon, farm groups say it could bankrupt already-struggling growers.
"If approved, this legislation would apply even in cases where farmers make a good-faith effort to create a contract with union negotiators. It would throw the issue to a state arbitrator who is unfamiliar with the complexities of agricultural production and the economic realities that farm employers face when producing highly perishable products," said California Farm Bureau Federation President Bill Pauli.
"It is not out of the realm of possibility that some family farmers, already squeezed by high production costs and poor prices, would be forced out of business by such an unfair process," he said. The law would come into play if a union and employer failed to reach a contract within 90 days of a union election. A mediator would then have 30 days to fashion a compromise. If no deal resulted, either party could petition the state labor board to submit the matter to binding arbitration.
Growers say the potential for arbitration could encourage union negotiators
to make unreasonable demands in the hope that an arbitrator would meet them
halfway. Union officials say the threat of arbitration would force both sides to
be sober and practical. "We're not asking for something out of this world," said
Garcia. "All we want is a neutral person to say if we are right or the company
UFW TO LAUNCH TEN-DAY MARCH
TO CALIFORNIA STATE CAPITOL SEEKING
GOVERNOR'S SIGNATURE ON LABOR REFORM BILL
MARGARET TALEV, SACRAMENTO BEE: Concerned that Gov. Gray Davis will veto a measure to significantly expand farm workers' labor rights, the United Farm Workers will stage a high-profile, 10-day march to the state Capitol in support of the bill.
The 150-mile march will begin Thursday morning in Merced and is expected to draw thousands of workers and some political and celebrity supporters as it winds north through hot, dusty agricultural towns along Highway 99 before ending in Sacramento.
The route traces a stretch of the late Cesar Chavez's first march for California farm workers 38 years ago. This is the first multi-city march since a 1994 march to mark the first anniversary of Chavez's death, said UFW spokesman Marc Grossman.
The decision to march, announced Tuesday, marks a shift in strategy for the bill's supporters and underscores their concern that Davis may veto the measure that lawmakers approved last week. The bill's author, Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, Dem.-San Francisco, will hold the bill back from Davis' desk to ensure it stays alive while the march proceeds.
Although the UFW has had a handful of activists camped out at the Capitol for days, organizers say a march that draws in thousands of chanting supporters will send a stronger signal. "I'm hoping the governor realizes the significance of this to farm workers and the Latino community," said UFW President Arturo Rodriguez, who will lead the march, joined by Chavez's son, Paul.
"Farm workers are still the lowest paid, the most exploited workforce, and yet they do a job that's so critical to us," Rodriguez said. "For them not to have the rights of other workers in California is a disgrace." . .. . .
The measure, SB 1736, is politically complex for Davis, who has courted support from both growers and farm workers. His Republican opponent in the November 5 governor's race, Bill Simon, opposes the bill. Rodriguez said he had hoped the bill could go to Davis' desk immediately after its final approval by the Legislature last week.
But when the UFW failed to get a commitment from Davis to sign the measure, Burton decided to hold it in the Senate, hoping the march would prod Davis to sign it, UFW leaders said. Once the Legislature passes a bill, legislative leaders can decide when it is sent to the governor for consideration.
Burton downplayed the strategy and the possibility of a veto, saying he was holding on to the measure in part so that lawyers could comb over the fine print and make sure it would withstand legal challenge once it became law. "I think he'll sign it," Burton said of the governor. "It's clearly the right thing to do."
Davis press secretary Steve Maviglio said the governor has not made a decision about the measure but is concerned about its impact on California's economy. . . . Maviglio said neither political contributions from growers nor a march by farm workers would affect Davis' decision. "It's not a question of how loud you are," Maviglio said. "It's a question of whether it's in the best interests of the state."
California's landmark Agricultural Labor Relations Act, passed in 1975, made
the state the first to give workers the right to unionize. Davis was chief of
staff to then-Gov. Jerry Brown. . . . . .
BLACK FARMER'S DECRY INACTION,
LAWSUIT RESULTS IN "BITTER DISAPPOINTMENT"
AS USDA INSTITUTIONAL RACISM PERSISTS
NEELY TUCKER, WASHINGTON POST: Back when the class-action suit by thousands of black farmers against the U.S. Department of Agriculture was seen as one of the most successful civil rights lawsuits in American history, William H. Miller was a hopeful man.
It was 1999, and Miller, a south Georgia farmer who was then 68, had lived long enough to see the USDA offer a new deal to black farmers who, like him, had sued the agency for decades of discriminatory loan practices.
The suit's colossal settlement was designed to erase farmers' debts to government creditors, put $50,000 in their pockets and give black applicants priority for new loans. The agriculture secretary at the time, Dan Glickman, said it was the government's greatest effort to compensate rural black Americans since they were given the hope of 40 acres and a mule after the Civil War. But like that broken promise, the lawsuit has become a bitter disappointment to the people it was supposed to help.
More than 12,800 black farmers have been paid a total of $623 million, and more than $17.2 million in outstanding loans has been forgiven. Yet many thousand other farmers have had their claims rejected, the totals of payouts and forgiven loans are far short of what was projected, and the USDA --- which under Glickman had acknowledged racial bias against black farmers going back decades --- is battling almost every claim filed.
In addition, the farmers' attorneys have made such monumental errors that a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington has blasted them for incompetence bordering on malpractice, saying their actions amounted to a "double betrayal" of the farmers.
The lead plaintiff, a North Carolina farmer named Timothy Pigford, withdrew from the case in frustration; 60,000 farmers missed a filing deadline, so their claims cannot be considered; and the nation's largest black farmers' organization is still staging protests across the country against the terms of the settlement. "What was promised and what has been delivered have been two different things," said Miller, who is appealing the rejection of his $50,000 claim.
From the tobacco fields of North Carolina to the cotton crops of the Mississippi Delta to the wheat fields of Minnesota, the nation's black farmers say these problems have so marred the settlement, and discrimination is still so entrenched in USDA field offices, that little or nothing has improved for black farmers as a group. And because billions of dollars in government subsidies continue to be directed to larger, wealthier farming operations, black farmers say, the settlement isn't enough to help them survive.
Blacks now make up less than one percent of the nation's 1.9 million farmers, and their numbers are dropping faster than those of white farmers. The USDA is a major source of farm loans and subsidies -- loans that farmers need to get their crops in the ground and subsidies that help shore up their operations. Access to timely loans is vital, particularly to those who run small farms, as most black farmers do.
"Many people are disturbed that for all the discrimination that occurred over so many years that the settlement money, even for those who won their cases, wasn't enough to really keep them farming," said John Zippert, director of program operations for the Federation of Southern Cooperatives in Epps, Alabama. "I've been in this field for 37 years. I've never seen a black farmer who wasn't discriminated against by the USDA, and yet their claims are rejected almost as often as they're accepted."
In the Bush administration, problems have continued with the USDA, said Calvin R. King Sr., president of the Arkansas Land and Farm Development Corporation and a MacArthur "genius" grant recipient for his work with black farmers. "African American farmers continue to be foreclosed on by the USDA; they continue to not have timely access to loans," King said. "Even with this suit, it's almost a hill you can't climb."
Lawsuits concerning USDA discrimination had been bubbling around the nation's courts for several years, but the landmark case began when Pigford and a few other farmers filed suit in U.S. District Court in Washington in 1997. Their claim, which Judge Paul L. Friedman certified as a class action, was that USDA officials in counties across the country for years had violated the Equal Opportunity Credit Act by systematically denying or delaying loan applications filed by black farmers.
Alexander J. Pires Jr., a Washington lawyer with experience in USDA suits, became the lead attorney, working with local law firms in the Deep South to pull together meetings of black farmers, enlist them in the suit and then represent them in court. The settlement, or consent decree, that was reached in 1999 was a complicated affair. There was no settlement for a pot of cash for the plaintiffs to divide, as is the norm in class-action cases. In fact, no one won any money automatically. Each farmer still had to prove he had been personally discriminated against.
The fast-track process for such claims --- Track A --- required farmers to prove they had tried and failed to borrow money from the USDA between 1981 and 1996 and had filed some sort of complaint about that denial. They also had to prove that similarly situated white farmers had been approved at the same time they were denied. If they could, each would get $50,000 tax-free and their USDA debts would be forgiven.
More than 98% of the eventual 22,891 class members chose this option, largely because Pires assured the judge that practically every farmer could meet those standards. "I believe every one of the 80-something cases I've already done will all qualify," Pires told Friedman in the 1999 hearing that led to the settlement. "There are only four questions to be answered under Track A, and with this lawyer you can meet that standard. . . . The government has no record for most of these cases and those cases will survive. There is certainty in that."
Friedman approved the arrangement --- and then things started to go wrong. Pires and his fellow lawyers had initially thought no more than 5,000 farmers would file claims. Instead, more than 80,000 full- or part-time farmers have filed, swamping the lawyers. Further, because the farmers' lawyers decided to skip the discovery phase common in lawsuits, farmers had little access to USDA records, not to mention the financial dealings of their white neighbors. In fact, few farmers of any race kept such detailed records.
And once before an adjudicator, their claims did not go unchallenged. The USDA, despite officials' earlier admissions of discrimination, filed objections to almost every case in which it had records.
USDA statistics show that although 12,849 farmers won their claims, 8,476 did not. Farmers were so angry that more than 6,000 have filed appeals, and a court monitor in Minnesota now gets 2,900 complaining phone calls each week.
For the 184 farmers who chose a different avenue under the settlement to try to prove a more serious level of discrimination, things have been worse. This process --- Track B --- is a one-day mini-trial before a court adjudicator. Although 54 cases have settled out of court, the USDA has won 15 of 25 cases tried --- and is appealing nine of the 10 it lost.
"I understand how they might feel concerned, but there were no guarantees of prevailing under the terms of the consent decree," said J. Michael Kelly, the USDA deputy general counsel. "Maybe the paucity of victories says something favorable about USDA's treatment of black farmers to begin with."
Stephon Bowens, director of the Land Loss Prevention Project, a North Carolina-based agency that represents black farmers in financial trouble, rejects that analysis. The problem, he says, is the structure of the consent decree.
"One would think that if you could prove that if you were African American and farming from 1981 to 1996, that as a class, based on admissions made by USDA that black farmers were discriminated against, there should never have been any secondary phase to further prove discrimination," he said. .. . . . .
Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman met with a group of irate black farmers
in mid-July. She said in a statement that she would try to mend relations with
the farmers. "If something is wrong, we need to fix it," she said. "If our
employees need more training, we intend to give it to them. If we need to help
cut the red tape and bureaucracy to better serve our constituents, then we
intend to do it."
CONSUMER GROUPS CHARGE
FIVE TOP USDA OFFICIALS
HAVING CLOSE TIES TO MEAT INDUSTRY
ANNE C. MULKERN, DENVER POST: Companies that put food on America's tables contributed nearly $25 million to President Bush and other politicians over the last three years. They helped write regulations designed to ensure that hamburgers, hot dogs and steaks are safe.
Five of the top people running the U.S. Department of Agriculture have ties to the meat industry. A former secretary of agriculture who spent 18 years in Congress describes the agricultural industry as one of Washington's more powerful lobby groups.
Now, after a Greeley-based E. coli outbreak related to 45 illnesses, a death and the second-largest meat recall in history, some question whether the relationship between the USDA and those it regulates is too cozy.
A draft report by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, that was made public in June says the USDA's inspection system is poorly designed and badly run. Consumer groups are asking Congress to investigate the recent recall. Some lawmakers want to increase USDA's powers.
"You have a system where industry really controls a lot," said Tony Corbo, senior policy analyst with Public Citizen, a Washington-based consumer advocacy group. "The system is just riddled with holes. There were too many concessions made to the industry."
The scientist who runs the USDA's food safety division, which supervises 7,500 inspectors in 6,200 meat and poultry plants, recoils at the suggestion the industry influences enforcement. "I totally disagree with any notion that there is anything but public health at the end of our decision-making," said Elsa Murano, undersecretary for food safety.
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show food-borne illnesses are dropping, which the USDA said proves its efforts are working. Those statistics are through 2001 and do not factor in the recent E. coli outbreak involving meat processed by ConAgra's plant in Greeley. Murano said, however, that she is reviewing regulations --- particularly those dealing with E. coli --- and revisions are possible.
The meat industry has an "average amount of influence" at USDA, and that is appropriate, said Sara Lilygren, a vice president with the American Meat Institute, a trade group. "We obviously are taken into account by the agencies whose job it is to inspect our plants on a daily basis," Lilygren said. "We have had fights with the USDA."
With an operating budget of nearly $77 billion and a workforce of 110,000, the USDA has duties that include protecting food safety. But it also promotes the sale of meat and protects farmers' financial interests. And it answers to Congress and the president, who have received millions in contributions from the agricultural industry.
That type of relationship is not unusual in Washington. Airlines influence the Federal Aviation Administration. Pharmaceutical companies contribute to lawmakers who oversee the Food and Drug Administration. Energy companies helped the Bush administration craft its energy policy.
Now, critics say, the recall of nearly 19 million pounds of ConAgra beef demonstrates the need for change.
"I think that this outbreak and the recall show the fundamental gaps in the USDA's program to control E. coli O157:H7," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, head of the food safety program for Center for Science in the Public Interest. "It's really time for Congress to step in and investigate this recall and pass legislation to prevent it from occurring in the future."
Currently, the USDA lacks the power to recall meat. It must ask processors to agree to voluntary, negotiated recalls. If a company refuses, the agency can seize meat it believes is dangerous. Nearly every company has agreed to voluntary recalls, a process the USDA said is faster because the company knows where it sold the meat.
"We want to be for things that make a difference," said Gary Weber, legislative director for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. "Mandatory recall isn't going to do that." The USDA can't fine companies for repeated problems, either. "By and large, I think the system needs greater powers," said Dan Glickman, USDA secretary from 1995 to 1999. "Congress has rejected giving us those. My guess is that the (meat) industry has prevailed upon them to do that."
The industry's influence became obvious to Michael Taylor in 1994, when he went to work heading the agency's food safety division. A telephone on Taylor's new desk featured two speed-dial buttons, one connecting to the American Meat Institute, the other to the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. That illustrated what Taylor --- who left the USDA in 1999 --- calls political reality. The USDA's most important customer is the industry it regulates. "Historically the consumer perspective and the public health perspective has not been prominent," he said. Inspectors and former USDA employees said processors don't want to sell contaminated meat. But the faster they can carve up cattle, the higher the profit.
The USDA knows additional requirements on meat processors will raise costs, said Mike Schwochert, a veterinarian who supervised inspections at the Excel plant in Fort Morgan until 1999.
Over the years, the industry has used its influence to block new regulations and weaken existing ones. After a 1993 outbreak of E. coli contamination at Washington state Jack in the Box stores killed four people and sickened 700, Congress and then-president Bill Clinton decided USDA needed an overhaul. Until then, inspectors monitored meat plants for contamination mainly by looking at carcasses. Lawmakers, and the industry, wanted more scientific testing.
But imposing new regulations pitted the USDA against the industry. The USDA
wanted meat processors to begin testing for salmonella contamination because it
believed the presence of salmonella indicated unclean conditions. The industry
said the test lacked credibility. Meat lobbyists appealed to Congress, and Rep.
James Walsh, a New York
Republican, introduced legislation that would have required extensive hearings --- delaying new regulations for two years or more.
After a consumer backlash, the USDA and meat groups compromised. The agency began testing for salmonella and required meat processors to develop plans to control biological hazards, a standard known as the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point program, or HACCP. Meat processors now conduct their own tests for E. coli. USDA inspectors check those results and do random spot testing.
The meat industry's power to resist increased USDA authority, however, became apparent in 2000 when U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, Dem.-Iowa, tried to give the USDA the authority the court said it lacked in the Supreme Beef case. The industry lobbied aggressively, and Harkin's proposal failed by one vote. A year later, it failed by five votes.
Through dozens of different groups and associations, the agricultural industry has given millions to political campaigns and has spent another $161 million on lobbying since 1999. That investment appears to have paid off. Consumer groups and several former USDA employees said lawmakers routinely intervene when a meat processing plant in their hometowns faces USDA enforcement action. Inspectors report feeling pressured to back off when they are close to taking action that could shut a plant.
Members of the agricultural industry dominated a group that helped Bush pick Ann Veneman to be agriculture secretary. She, in turn, appointed several aides from meat industry backgrounds. Federal ethics rules require those people to recuse themselves for one year from any discussions or decisions involving their former employers.
None of the Clinton administration's top USDA officials came from the meat industry. But historically, many USDA administrators have previously worked in the industry. Veneman's spokeswoman, Alisa Harrison, said the backgrounds of administration appointees are irrelevant.
Advocates such as Carol Tucker Foreman with the Consumer Federation of America "have just as much access to pick up the phone and call anyone at the Department of Agriculture," Harrison said.
National Cattlemen's Beef official Weber said that the industry for years had an acrimonious relationship with the USDA and that the Bush administration is trying to be evenhanded. "I see a very, very diligent, deliberate approach to make sure there's balance and equal access," he said.
Consumer groups say the balance has moved away from safety. "This is a public
health program, and they have consistently had people there who know a lot about
animals, and not a lot about how to keep people from getting sick," said the
Consumer Federation's Foreman, a USDA official during the Carter administration.
"Their point of view is what is reasonable to do to the industry, versus what
you need to do to keep people from getting sick."
SIERRA CLUB REPORT:
RAPID GROWTH OF FEEDLOTS AND PACKERS
OUTPACING STATE AND FEDERAL EFFORTS
TO KEEP THEM OPERATING SAFELY AND CLEANLY
ELIZABETH BECKER, NEW YORK TIMES:The rapid growth of huge animal feedlots and slaughterhouses in the 1990's has outpaced the power of state and federal regulators to keep them operating safely and cleanly, leading to polluted rivers and lakes, meat recalls and workplace injuries, a Sierra Club report says.
In its first effort to catalog the environmental, health and safety records of the feedlots and packing plants owned by corporations, the Sierra Club reported these findings from a study of state and federal records for the 1980's and 90's:
* The slaughterhouses produced 134 million pounds of contaminated or possibly contaminated meat.
* Millions of gallons of animal feces and urine that seeped from manure pits of the big feedlots polluted 35,000 miles of rivers.
* More than $48 million in fines were paid for health and environmental violations that included slaughtering diseased cows; polluting water with animal carcasses, urine and feces; and selling rodent-tainted meat.
* Labor and worker-safety violations led to 13 deaths and more than $35 million in fines for the corporations.
The study found that most violations occurred in the 1990's, when the meat industry began building large feedlots in rural America from North Carolina to California. The 630 meat factories in 44 states covered by the study included the largest feedlots, which raise millions of hogs, chickens or cattle.
The report, "The Rap Sheet on Animal Factories," [was] released on Tuesday by the Sierra Club, which has argued for more regulation. The report also identified ten companies as having the worst health, safety and pollution records.The meat industry criticized the report, saying it failed to reflect the improvements in response to early problems or innovations to improve meat safety. Instead, industry spokesmen said, the report focused on old problems already uncovered by federal and local regulators.
One spokesman, J. Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute, said, "In compiling a laundry list of information about large food, feed and agribusinesses on issues ranging from food safety to animal welfare to the environment, the Sierra Club seeks to sling as much mud as it can at the U.S. meat and poultry industry and see what sticks."
The Sierra Club and other environmental groups have argued that the regulations were written to cover small family farms, not the huge modern feedlots.
The Environmental Protection Agency is under court order to come up with new federal regulations for feedlots. Stephanie Bell, a spokeswoman, said the agency would complete them by December. Worried that new regulations would impose new expenses, the large corporations lobbied for and won eligibility for money from the new farm bill to clean up animal wastewater.
Ed Hopkins, author of the Sierra Club's study, said, "That's why we opposed the new farm bill, because it makes the American taxpayer subsidize these huge animal factories and clean up their mess." In the last five years, several rural communities have fought to keep out new feedlots, citing the smell, the threat to the environment and dangerous, low-paying jobs.
Ann Thorne, a professor at Missouri Western State College and the wife of a small cattle farmer, led a successful drive two years ago to prevent a hog operation from locating near St. Joseph. "They wanted to slaughter16,000 hogs a day," Mrs. Thorne said. "Do you have any idea what that would do to our lovely rural community? I'd never been in politics before --- it was a total anomaly for me --- but I didn't want my life ruined by those hogs."
The major poultry and meat producers, however, said they stood by their records and the fact that their big feedlots and packing houses translated into uniform quality and lower prices for consumers. "We're proud that we help support ranchers from all over the United States who grow the cattle we buy, and farmers who grow the grain to feed the animals grown for us," said Ed Nicholson, a spokesman for Tyson Foods Inc., which was cited as one of the companies with the worst records.
Most of the environmental problems stem from the waste from the feedlots. The country's cattle, hog and chicken feedlots produce 291 billion pounds of manure a day. That waste is held in open pits, known as manure lagoons. Leaks and spills from these lagoons have caused most of the water pollution and fish kills documented in the report.
One example cited was the illegal discharge of hog waste by Cargill Pork
Inc., which pleaded guilty in February to violating the Clean Water Act after
manure spilled into the Loutre River in Missouri, killing more than 50,000 fish.
Mark Klein, a Cargill spokesman, said that incident was not characteristic of
the company, and he called it "an accident that should not have happened. What
the report doesn't say," Mr. Klein said, "is we cooperated with officials in
this spill. We cleaned up the creek and closed down the operation. We are
committed to protecting the environment and being good neighbors in our
PERDUE FARMS AGREES TO PAY
60,000 EMPLOYEES IN TEN STATES
BACK-OWED "DONNING AND DOFFING" WAGES
ANITHA REEDY, WASHINGTON POST: Perdue Farms Inc. agreed [August 7] to pay $10 million to settle a class-action lawsuit for failing to compensate workers for time spent putting on and taking off protective gear. The agreement is in addition to the $10 million settlement Perdue reached with the U.S. Department of Labor in May for similar claims of lost wages by 25,000 employees.
More than 60,000 employees at the company's 18 chicken-processing plants in ten states --- including 8,000 people at five processing plants on the Delmarva peninsula --- will split the settlement, which will come to about $7 million after lawyer fees are deducted. The family-owned company based in Salisbury, Maryland, also agreed to pay workers for time spent "donning and doffing" in the future.
"Today's action will finally and completely put to rest this contentious issue," Perdue Farms Chairman Jim Perdue said in a statement. "It is the right thing to do for our associates and our company." Lawyers representing the plaintiffs were unable to say how much each worker would receive because the suit was brought under wage and hour laws that vary by state.
"The amount of money they get will be very significant in their lives even if it's a couple hundred dollars," said Joseph M. Sellers, a lawyer at Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll PLLC and co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs. Plant workers earn an average of $7.50 an hour, not including benefits, according to Perdue spokeswoman Tita Cherrier.
The class-action complaint also alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the same law the Labor Department charged Perdue with breaking in its suit filed in May 2000. Some workers who received money under the Labor Department settlement may receive additional compensation because the private lawsuit covers a longer period.
Employees included in the class-action suit, filed in December 1999, also won retroactive pension benefits associated with their "off-the-clock" preparation and cleanup work, a common industry practice. Slaughtering and processing chickens is messy, fast-paced and dangerous assembly-line work that requires safety gear.
The Labor Department also filed a lawsuit against Tyson Foods Inc. in May for
the same reason on behalf of workers at its Blountsville, Alaama
poultry-processing plant. The agency is seeking retroactive wage relief for
employees as well as a company-wide injunction against the unpaid labor
CARGILL, NATION'S LARGEST AGRIBUSINESS,
REPORTS YEARLY PROFITS ROSE 131%
ON THREE PERCENT INCREASE IN SALES
JOY POWELL, MINNEAPOLIS STAR-TRIBUNE: Agribusiness giant Cargill Inc. on Tuesday reported 2002 profits rose 131% to $827 million as most of its food and ingredient businesses recovered from a disappointing fiscal 2001. Revenue for the year rose three percent to $50.8 billion for Minnetonka, Minnesota-based Cargill, the nation's largest agribusiness.
Fourth-quarter net income for the year ending May 31 was $144 million, compared with an $87 million loss for that period a year ago.
"We're obviously pleased with the results," Robert Lumpkins, vice chairman and chief financial officer, said in an interview Tuesday. "We think that we have repositioned the company and have an energized team that is making good things happen." Profits came in Cargill businesses ranging from food and meat to an international network for processing and distributing oil seeds, grain, sugar and other commodities.
"Cargill's earnings improvement was broad-based, with two-thirds of our 90 business units delivering stronger results than a year ago," said Warren Staley, chairman and chief executive officer. "Contributors include the majority of our food and meat businesses in Europe and North America --- ingredients such as sweeteners, edible oils, malt and cocoa, as well as egg, pork and poultry products."
Cargill operates in 59 countries with 97,000 employees worldwide --- 4,785 of them in Minnesota. Moving toward its goal of becoming the leader in nourishing the world by 2010, Cargill continues to acquire businesses and enter alliances in the food, ingredient and animal nutrition companies.
Its biggest purchase came this year when Cargill bought a 97% interest in France-based Cerestar, a leading maker of specialty starches and sweeteners for food, beverages, pharmaceuticals, paper, detergent and feedstocks. The deal was valued at about $1.1 billion including assumed debt.
On Tuesday Cargill also announced plans to buy an animal feed and flour milling company in Switzerland. In January, Cargill finalized a joint venture with CHS Cooperatives in Inver Grove Heights to form Horizon Milling, the leading U.S. flour miller. Meanwhile, Cargill continued divesting itself of nonfood-related industries, such as a division that Cargill's North Star Steel sold in July.
Cargill's animal nutrition business expanded its international reach with the purchase of St. Louis, Missouri-based Agribrands International last year. Agribrands had feed mills and marketing operations throughout Asia, Western and Eastern Europe and Latin America.
In May, Cargill announced its intent to buy a Florida-based phosphate fertilizer plant and about 15,000 acres of land containing phosphate reserves. Lumpkins said Cargill is expanding in the fertilizer industry because it's "an important part of the agri-food chain to help farmers grow more food."
Cargill saw lower earnings in some areas, such as its meat division, which sells to food manufacturers, retailers and food service companies. Last September, beef demand fell with a slowing U.S. economy, market volatility and the discovery of mad-cow disease in Japan --- the top export market for U.S. beef, said Lisa Clemens, a Cargill spokeswoman.
The Septempter 11 attacks also caused a temporary dropoff in beef demand from high-end restaurants, institutions and airlines. But beef earnings, while slower than a year earlier, remained fairly steady.
Overall, Lumpkins said, Cargill's strong performance was diversified and geographically balanced. It reflects progress made on Cargill's new strategy to provide customer solutions in the agriculture and food chain, he said.
Cargill's U.S. and Canadian farm services business, for example, provides tools to help farmers manage risk, Lumpkins said. Those services include forward contracts, in which farmers lock in prices for a year or two ahead and earn a few cents more a bushel, plus premiums.
Now, with the government's announcement Monday that bad weather is cutting into crop yields and reserves are tightening, market prices are rising. While that's good news for many farmers, those with locked-in contracts might not share the extra profits. Dennis Inman of Cargill's AgHorizons said locking in prices has paid handsomely for farmers in the past several years, however.
"When using our products as a means to diversify their overall risk," Inman said, "we wouldn't encourage any of our customers to lock up all of their production in an individual [contract]."
Looking ahead, grain merchants and processors such as Cargill might see their input costs rise as commodity prices rise. So might costs for feeding cattle in Cargill's Caprock feedlots in Texas and Kansas.
Recently, Cargill acquired patent protection for products that add value to
basic commodities such as corn and soybeans. For example, Cargill acquired
rights to a method for refining soybean oil for use as an insulator in electric
transformers. Cargill bought the patents from an Iowa municipal utility. And in
a joint venture, Cargill Dow developed proprietary technology at a Blair,
Nebraska, plant that opened this year to produce plastic from corn.
CORPORATE AGRIBUSINESS RESEARCH PROJECT
WEB SITE INITIATES RENEWED SUPPORT EFFORT
It is rather curious that as more and more people from literally around the
to regularly receive THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER, lavish in their much
appreciated praise for the work it seeks to do, fewer and fewer people seem willing to
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Those handful of regular contributors who have earned the editor's undying
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rural organizations. Such neglect, however, when it comes to rural concerns is
recognized from this desk as not uncommon in our modern affluent and well fed
Since the AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER first appeared some 181 issues ago it has
the publisher's intent to make the work of the Corporate Agribusiness Research Project
(CARP) and the monitoring of corporate agribusiness from a public interest perspective
available to the widest possible audience, seeing that those few and available publications
that still concern themselves with corporate agribusiness are so prohibitively expensive,
to say nothing of their pro-corporate bias.
But, because there is a more a need today than ever before to make corporate
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AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER to continue to play a major role in that effort. Your
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As part of a major effort to keep those committed to bringing economic and
democracy to rural America informed, educated and updated the Corporate
Agribusiness Research Project is happy to point out that its web site has been updated
Among the sites many features are:
> A complete index of THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER'S first 162 issues
"Search" engine to provide easy access to the subject matter of each edition.
> Å new edition of THE AGBIZ TILLER, the progeny of the one-time printed
newsletter, featuring the essay "The Merchants of Greed," an in-depth essay dealing with
today's corporate agribusiness. Likewise the "Search" engine is also available for past
editions of THE AGBIZ TILLER.
> In "Between the Furrows," besides a modern "Search" engine, there is a
of pages designed to inform and educate readers on the inner workings of corporate
agribusiness. They include:
* CARP's "Mission Statement," "Overview" and THE AGRIBUSINESS
EXAMINER'S Editor\Publisher's "Resume."
* "Fact Miners," an effort to assist the reader in the necessary art of
* "Quotable Quotes" pertaining to agribusiness and corporate power
* "Links," a page which allows the reader to survey various useful
government and corporate web sites;
* "Feedback" an opportunity for reader input:
* The Corporate Reapers: The Book of Agribusiness, a page where
readers can order
directly the editor's 1992 published book from Essential Books.
The CARP web site was designed and produced by ElectricArrow of Seattle,
Simply by clicking on the address below all the aforementioned features and
are yours to enjoy, study, absorb and sow.