Management representatives of meat processing group Smithfield met yesterday (21 Nov) with a number of employees from its plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, and a local Roman Catholic priest to discuss employees' concerns about sackings following checks on workers' social security credentials.

Around 1,000 non-union workers from the plant, many of them Hispanic, walked out last week because a number of employees had been fired for allegedly providing false documentation. The employees who walked out returned to work over the weekend after the company agreed to reinstate the dismissed workers and give them 60 days to provide documentation.

Smithfield said in a statement that some employees were confused because of steps the company had taken to assure the federal authorities that it did not knowingly employ undocumented workers.

"These steps required our employees to provide social security information matching the information on file with the US Social Security Administration," the company said in a statement. "As we said last week, we have agreed to give employees more time to straighten out any questions about their social security information. We also have assigned a human resources staff person to help employees answer questions and resolve no-match issues."

Smithfield said that as a result of the meeting, employees now had a better understanding of what the company must do to comply with federal law. "We all agreed that we will work together in a cooperative way to solve employees' problems," the statement continued. "The meeting was friendly, positive and constructive. We believe that the meeting - and our ongoing communications with our employees - will go a long way toward resolving concerns on these immigration issues."