Roughly 600 employees of Delta Pride Catfish, Inc., mostly African-American women, may go on strike soon. If the contract the company has offered — using a notorious union-busting legal firm at the negotiating table — is rejected, this would be the second strike against Delta Pride Catfish. The first strike in 1990 is looked upon as a landmark in labor history.
Delta Pride Catfish, a Mississippi company, is paying employees a mere $8 to $9 an hour. They haven’t had an increase in four years.
But that’s not the worst of it.
The company has offered a contract that is atrocious. It would establish a seven-day work week, reduce seniority benefits, eliminate overtime, abolish severance pay should the company close, triple employee contributions to company health insurance over three years, and allow the company to outsource jobs and double the new hire probationary period — among other things. United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1529 has been in contract negotiations with the company for more than a year.
This isn’t the first time the company has received attention for its highly despicable, racist and sexist treatment of Black women employees in the mostly poor Delta region. In 1990 a successful three-month strike took place against the company. The issues then were adverse health effects of speed-up, a five-minute time limit on lavatory use, low wages and 10- to 13-hour workdays.
The strike was the largest of Black workers in Mississippi history and saw the civil rights and labor movements join together. Boycotts were called and scabs were brought in. A company official even threatened a striker with a gun.
The small gains achieved at the time, such as a 75-cent raise, were enough to create a lasting tension between Delta Pride Catfish and its employees.
Although earlier reports suggested a vote on the contract in the third week of May, union representative Leon Sheppard Jr. spoke with Workers World by phone on May 17 and confirmed that a contract ratification vote as well as a strike vote would take place on either May 26 or 27 and that there have been no further negotiations.
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