Smithfield Foods’ chief-in-waiting Larry Pope called upon the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) yesterday (30 August) to hold a vote at the company’s Tar Heel facility.

Meanwhile UFCW-rallied “Justice at Smithfield” activists gathered at the Smithfield shareholders meeting in Richmond, VA, protesting that workers in Tar Heel have not been granted the same rights as Smithfield employees in other plants, and calling for unionisation there.

Pope said: “Smithfield’s policy regarding unions and union elections is clear: we fully support our employees’ right to choose and we have always abided by their decisions.

As from tomorrow, Pope will become the company’s chief executive officer, when Joseph Luter steps down – becoming the company’s chairman of the board instead.

“Unions, including the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, or UFCW, and its alliance, Change to Win, already represent employees at a number of our plants and have done so for a number of years without any labour conflict. In fact, 57% of Smithfield’s US employees at pork processing plants already are represented by a union,” he continued.

The pork processing company said that on 29 June, it sent a letter to the UFCW urging the union to schedule a ballot at the plant to determine if workers want a union at Tar Heel.

“To date, our proposal has not been met with a meaningful response. Rather than work with Smithfield in scheduling a new election, the UFCW has instead chosen to accelerate its public relations campaign that attacks the integrity of our company, our products and certain of our officials,” added Pope.

At the shareholder meeting, Smithfield also re-elected Luter and Wendell Murphy as directors for a three-year term, and elected Pope to the board for a term that also runs until the 2009 annual meeting.