September 18th, 2008 5:33 pm | by BETH SLOVIC News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics

Letter to Smith Frozen Foods' Management: "The Future of our Families Has Gotten Worse, Not Better"

Smith Frozen Foods Employees' 2002 LetterLast week, WW published "Señor Smith" about U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith's family business, Smith Frozen Foods, and the Eastern Oregon plant's history of hiring undocumented workers. This week, WW followed up with "Señor Smith, Part Dos."

While both pieces focused on the plant's reliance on the work of illegal immigrants, both also quoted workers describing poor conditions at the plant. Pay is low. (It starts at an hourly rate of about $8.) The work is irregular. And only full-time employees -- or about one-third of the work force -- earn health insurance.

These are not new complaints.

In 2001, employees at Smith Frozen Foods were in tense contract negotiations with management at the Weston, Ore., plant.

Below is the English-language version of a 2001 letter signed by 300 employees and delivered to the Republican senator, who owns the plant but stopped managing day-to-day operations after his election to the U.S. Senate in 1996. It was also addressed to Smith's wife Sharon, who has served as the company's president, chief executive officer and board chairwoman.

Key points of interest:

Workers say their biggest pay increase came when Oregon raised the minimum wage.

Some of the workers nonetheless donated to Smith's senate campaign.

Key sentences:

"For the first time we will have a safety and health clause in our contract and an agreement going forward to comply with the laws regulating safety committees."

"We were able to end the practice of workers being required to work without pay."

"And we made progress toward ending hostile work environments and dealing with abusive supervisors."

Earlier this week I talked to Tony Perlstein who in 2001 was an organizer with Teamsters Local 556, then the union representing Smith Frozen Foods' employees. He had strong words for Smith's management team.

"Food processing is an industry with narrow profit margins." Perlstein says. "You can't make millions at it without squeezing every last penny from the work force. Smith Frozen Foods and the Smith organization were particularly good at it and good at using their political influence to silence critics of the plant's conditions."

Lindsay Gilbride, Smith's campaign spokeswoman, did not immediately respond to a request for comment left on her office phone and cellphone. Previously, however, she called WW's coverage of Smith Frozen Foods unprofessional and unsubstantiated.
Smith Frozen Foods Employees' 2002 Letter
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