History of the Hormel meatpackers strike

Police confront strikers during 1985 Hormel strike
Austin Police move in on P-9 strikers during the 1985 Hormel strike.
Austin Daily Herald Photo

The Hormel strike that began 25 years ago, devastated Austin and transformed the workforce of the small city.

The recession of the early 1980's increased competition among meatpackers around the country. Many smaller companies went under, others instituted wage cuts.

By 1985, Hormel felt pressure to remain competitive. When the company demanded a 23 percent wage cut, about 1,500 workers with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local P-9, in Austin walked off the job in August.

The strike made national headlines and became one of the longest in an industry that was rife with them in the 1980s. After 6 months, the local union was ordered to call of the strike by the national leaders of the United Food and Commercial Workers. When the union members in Austin refused, local P-9 was placed in receivership and taken over by the national union.

The 10-month strike devastated the city. Families stopped talking. National Guard soldiers patrolled the streets to keep the peace. And in this quiet community, red-faced screaming matches happened almost daily on the picket line.

Buttons
A variety of buttons documenting the 1985 strike at Hormel Foods hang on the wall of the Local United Food and Commercial Workers Union, or P-9, members' gathering place in Austin, Minn. June 15, 2010.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

After the strike, Hormel hired new workers at lower wages. And a few years later, in 1989, the company leased part of its Austin plant to a newly created company called Quality Pork Processors, or QPP.

QPP took over the more dangerous cut and slaughter part of the business. Today, it processes 19,000 hogs a day, according to the company's website. All of the fresh meat from QPP goes on for processing at Hormel.

By the mid-1990s, QPP ushered in a new workforce of mostly single Mexican men.

Gain a Better Understanding of Today

MPR News is not just a listener supported source of information, it's a resource where listeners are supported. We take you beyond the headlines to the world we share in Minnesota. Become a sustainer today to fuel MPR News all year long.