Hormel workers hold vote on new contract

Workers at the Hormel plant in Austin, Minnesota are voting on a final offer from the company this week, as union representatives say they are encouraging members to reject the offer.

UFCW Local 663 is demanding higher wages and secure pensions for workers at the meatpacking plant, citing gross annual profits of more than $2 billion and years of suppressed pay. 

While the company and union agreed to extend the current contract through the first week of October as negotiations continue, many in Austin are preparing for a strike. 

The small Southern Minnesota community in many ways never recovered from the last time workers at the plant went on strike from 1985 to 1986.

"It was a very dramatic conflict and many people left town altogether as a result," said Peter Rachleff, labor historian and author of the book "Hard Pressed in the Heartland: the Hormel strike and the future of the labor movement."

(FOX 9)

At the time, the strike lasted ten months and ended with the company bringing in new workers and never giving in to the union's demands. Rachleff said as a result, wages at the Austin plant have lagged behind other meat-packing plants for more than three decades.

"The model that got introduced in the mid-80s of cut the wages and make people work harder…That model has really run its course," said Rachleff.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Hormel said, "While we are disappointed we have yet to reach an agreement, we remain optimistic."

Details of Hormel’s final offer are unknown. Union representatives have encouraged members to vote "no" and force them to return to the bargaining table.

Voting continues through Thursday, with union representatives expected to announce results by Friday morning.