Magaly Licolli, co-founder of Venceremos shared her experiences as a workers organizer for poultry workers in the northwest section of Arkansas. Magaly’s work at a non-profit community planning organization revealed the systemic problems facing migrant workers at the various poultry packing plants; mostly owned by Tyson. Some of the problems were disabled workers with no benefits, unstable employment, and harsh, unsafe, and severe working conditions in the middle of the COVID pandemic.
Although mutual aid had been established, the working conditions had not been addressed. As there were no organizations to address this issue, Magaly Licolli began the outreach of connecting with workers that came to her for aid.
As always happens, there came a tipping point. When Tyson increased the “line speed” in December 2020 to make up for the lack of workers due to COVID-19. Thirty workers walked off the line and refused to work that very day.
This is when Venceremos helped out by initiating a strike. The next day, the Tyson plant agreed to decrease the line speed and promised a few other items, such as staggered shifts, sanitizer stations, and protection such as masks. But the struggle had only begun and is going on still.
Currently, the migrant workers in Northwest Arkansas have a distrust of organized unions, due to the various languages among the workers and the inherent isolation from the Arkansas community, Venceremos has adopted a different successful organizing strategy learned from other worker’s-oriented organizations.
“Worker driven social responsibility model” consists of workers making contracts with the supply chain vendors and not their employers. Their working condition complaints go to these intermediaries requesting they be addressed to improve the quality and quantity of the product the vendors receive. This still requires a majority of workers to build a strong base for negotiation, however, it appears that supply chain vendors are more responsive to any problem which might impede their supply of products.
This new approach bears watching to see if it is a model that can be applied elsewhere. To read more, go to https://www.facebook.com/venceremosarkansas/