06/02/1986 MPR report: Strike ends, with Gary Eichten

Photo taken during Hormel strike in Austin
A photo taken on the streets of Austin during the 10-month meatpackers strike.
Mower County Historical Society

HOST GARY EICHTEN: Good afternoon. I'm Gary Eichten and this is MPR Journal. Local P-9 has lost another major battle and maybe its long-running war as well.

Federal Court Judge Edward Devitt ruled today that local P-9's international union may legally take over the Austin union, paving the way for an end to P-9's nine-month strike at Hormel. In fact, Hormel says the strike is now officially over. We'll have that part of the story on our cover story today. But we'll also hear from some P-9ers who still insist the strike will continue.

P-9er: You can't tell me what I can't do. I'm going to go out and do exactly what I have to do to get my job back. That's all that counts because if I go into that company the way it is, the way the international's got it set up, I won't have a job, and neither will a lot of 'em other people. And that's why we're going to stand up, and we're going to fight this company and we're going to fight the international if we have to.

EICHTEN: The Hormel strike in Austin is finally over, maybe. We'll have a report on our cover story. Also on our cover story today, Minneapolis officials have decided to build a brand new convention center rather than remodel the old one. They say the new facility could be the best in the country, and not cost any more than the remodeled version. We'll have that report. Also today, we'll report on tomorrow's South Dakota's senate primary. James Abdnor versus a low-key Bill Janklow. Also today, we're going to review 42nd Street. Robert Collins says it's a victory of style over substance. In our weather, the Weather Services says there's a chance of a shower in the northern parts of the area tomorrow, but fair skies are forecast for the south, with warmer temperatures all across the region by tomorrow. Right now in the Twin Cities, it's sunny and it's 69 degrees.

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Nine months ago, Austin meatpackers went on strike at the Hormel plant in Austin. Today, the strike apparently came to an end. A federal judge in St. Paul ruled today that P9 must cooperate with a trustee appointed by P9's parent, international union. A trustee who is taking over P9. That trustee has already made an offer to Hormel to end the P9 strike. Mike Mulcahy is in the studio now with our cover story report.

MULCAHY: Gary, in granting the injunction, Federal District Court Judge Edward Devitt said that it wasn't his job to rule on issues involving P-9's labor strategy. He said his only responsibility was to determine whether the constitution P-9 operated under gave the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union the power to suspend the local's officers and take over its day to day activities. Citing a number of cases in the UFCW's constitution, Devitt concluded that the international acted within its authority in appointing Joe Hansen as P-9's trustee.

He ordered P-9 and its agents to turn over all the local's assets to Hansen and further ordered union members to cooperate with the trustee. P-9's business agent Pete Winkels says it wasn't entirely unexpected.

WINKELS: I think the way that the international has conducted itself in the past, I don't think anybody is surprised what they've done. From what I understand the judge say from the bench, that he was quoting from the UFCW constitution which lies entirely how one man, Bill Wynn, interprets it. He can pretty well interpret anything in there that he wants to, and if that's all that's going to be considered, then I suppose that's what the membership of the UFCW is stuck with. It doesn't sound much like a democracy.

MULCAHY: Bill Wynn, of course, is the UFCW president. Winkles and P9's attorney say they will examine Devitt's order and that they'll most likely appeal it within the next few weeks. The handful of P9 members present in the courtroom were not pleased with the ruling. And rank and filer Dale Francis says it won't change the workers' tactics.

FRANCIS: A judge isn't going to tell me what I can't do. I'm going to go out and do exactly what I have to do to get my job back. That's all that counts because if I go into that company the way it is, the way the international's got it set up, I won't have a job, and neither will a lot of 'em other people and that's why we're going to stand up, and we're going to fight this company and we're going to fight the international if we have to. That's just the way we feel. And regardless, if Joe Hansen wants to come down here, he's going to have to sit on the street because he's not getting in our union hall.

MULCAHY: Now, as you may recall, the international has already made an unconditional settlement offer to Hormel in an attempt to save as many of the workers' jobs as possible. Hormel officials said they wouldn't act on the offer until the court made a decision. But now, Senior Vice President Chuck Nyberg says talks will be arranged with trustee Joe Hansen.

NYBERG: Well, we were awaiting for some disposition one way or another. And the federal district court, Judge Devitt has now held that according to what we hear, that the UFCW's trusteeship is valid. That being the case, we certainly recognize the international union or its representative, Mr. Hansen, as the trustee of that organization, and we fully intend to bargain with the trustee for an honorable contract.

MULCAHY: Nyberg adds that the return-to-work offer is acceptable to the company.

NYBERG: Very definitely. We've been looking forward to a termination of this strike for many months and of course, that means the strike is now officially over.

MULCAHY: For his part, Joe Hansen repeated the international's priorities and the entire trusteeship procedure. He says the international wants to preserve the Austin workers' jobs, preserve the union and the plant, and negotiate a fair contract. Hansen says he hopes to meet with company negotiators this week.

HANSEN: I am confident that the company will meet with me. One of the reasons why I was a little bit late, I just talked to the company and we're in the process of setting up a time and place to do that this week. I'm also confident we'll negotiate a contract and I'm confident that the return of the Austin members to work will be at a quickening place.

MULCAHY: Hansen agrees with Nyberg that the strike is over now, but he says a number of complicated issues remain to be worked out, including getting jobs back for the 600 or so P9ers who are still out. And removing a two-tier wage system from the union's current contract. P9 now intends to appeal Judge Devitt's ruling. But for now, the union's officers are suspended and the international is set to begin bargaining. Gary,

EICHTEN: Thank you, Mike. And that was our cover story for today.