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UPDATE: Union Representing Meatpackers in Vernon Farmer John Plant Reaches ‘Fair Agreement’ to Compensate Workers Until 2023

photo: Pleasure Palate via L.A. TACO

Update on June 13, 2022: John Grant, President of UFCW 770 who represents the workers of Farmer John's Vernon plant, has reached out to L.A. TACO to inform us that they were successful in their negotiations. Read the full statement on their website.  

(Vin Scully voice) FAAARmer John! (end of Vin Scully voice) is finally calling it quits in Vernon, mopping up all its blood, guts, and pig anuses and closing shop at its South L.A. meatpacking plant.

In a statement released this morning, Smithfield Foods Inc., the Virginia-based parent company of Farmer John and the country's biggest pork producer, details expectations to cease all harvesting and processing operations in Vernon in 2023 "due to the escalating cost of doing business in California," while moving the majority of its West Coast operations out of state. This includes an intention of exiting Arizona, too, and reducing herds of sows in Utah.

The plant, known for its colorful murals of happy, unsuspecting pigs and cows, has long been both bane and burden to Vernon, mostly for producing the offputting smells of an active slaughterhouse in southeast Los Angeles

Smithfield and former owner Clougherty Packing have been fined and sued numerous times by the EPA over the years for various air pollution violations, including violations of the Clean Air Act's Risk Management Program requirements. Recently, L.A. TACO explored the issue of why a putrid, burning corpse-like smell regularly plagues communities in Southeast L.A., with Farmer John frequently fingered as a suspect.

In addition, the meat processing facility, or "slaughterhouse" to some, and Smithfield have come under fire for the spread of COVID among 140 people who worked at the plant in 2020. And naturally, both Smithfield and the plant are natural targets for Animal Rights advocates, especially when the company doesn't do what it promises.

In addition, it no longer makes the Dodger Dog, making it less relevant to meat-eating Southern Californians than any other time in its 90-year history.

However, according to ABC, the plant is also the biggest employer in Vernon. Between 1,800-2,500 employees stand to lose their jobs under the plan, despite Smithfield's stated commitment to providing financial and other transition assistance to employees impacted by this "difficult decision."

But the United Food and Commercial Workers Union is not trying to hear that. They got a short statement of its own, detailing how UFCW 770's Bargaining Committee was in negotiations for a new contract with Smithfield when it caught wind of the closure. While the Union is waiting for an update from the company, it maintains it will continue "negotiating with the company to secure a benefits package that respects and compensates workers for their years of service in case the plant closes."

In any case, the story of Farmer John is probably some kind of parable about industrial L.A.

Small, family-owned agrarian powerhouse gets snatched up and pimped out by one major corporation after another, which pollutes the community, then bows out when things get tough without ever calling us again. Or maybe it's more like... enterprising, starry-eyed conglomerate comes to L.A. feels misunderstood among its liberal neighbors. Unable to stomach the steep costs of rent, gas, and a living wage any longer, hightails it back to Virginia with a farm animal under its arm.

Either way, we think we've heard this story before.

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