Last week, the Local 179 chapter of the United Food and Commercial Works at Tyson Deli here in Cherokee, voted to accept their contract. I reported the results of that vote on page one of today's paper.
Whenever the plant's contract comes up, it seems an unsure time for the community of Cherokee. Tyson is the leading employer in Cherokee County and it has been since the mid 1960's. The company was started by Wilson Foods and has changed ownership several times over the years.
During contract time there gets to be some raw emotions that seem to float to the top of peoples opinion on the matter.
Recently I've heard comments, quite derogatory in nature, toward the workers at the plant -- comments such as, "All they do is put bologna into a box" or "It can't be that hard making hot dogs." I take great offense to these types of comments.
For those who don't know, I worked at the plant for eight years. During that time I did many, many different jobs and worked with some of the hardest workers I've ever seen in my life.
There are people who have worked over 35 years on the floor of that plant. Day after day, doing the same job over and over again and never complaining but showing up to work on time year after year. Conditions at the plant are generally cold - around 45 degrees in most spots - and also as hot as 110 degrees in others spots of the plant.
There are hazards everywhere, from forklift traffic, to equipment malfunction resulting in possibly 5,000 lbs. falling on your head, to chemical burns, or just the plain damage to a body of repetitive motion, doing the same job year after year.
Heck, once I sliced open a gash just above my eye when a high-pressure hose slipped out of my hand. Not to mention all the liquid smoke that I inhaled due to leaky seals on the smoke houses. There are slips and trips, pinches and cuts, lifting 40 pounds over your head all day. I tell you that you sure earn your money out there.
Not to mention the personal battles people out there deal with when it comes to alcohol and substance abuse. That, too, is something I know a lot about. Much of that unfortunately comes with dealing with the job.
There was another sad observation I made during my time at the plant, and that was how many heart attacks and suicides happened while I worked there. It shocked me, because I never worked at a place where those kind of incidents of death happen in such volume. But alas, dealing with death is a part of life.
Another surprise that you may find about the workers at the plant is that many are not there because they don't have any other skills. There are electricians, engineers, writers, artists, photographers, mechanics, farmers, welders, woodworkers and musicians. Some of the most talented people in this community work out at the plant.
They are there for many reasons, but the main reason is that they are there to support their families - to buy a home and send their kids to college. There are many generations of families that have worked at the plant.
So please, show some respect when you think of these workers the next time you open your mouth. And picture those hard workers who walk every day into the plant, carrying their lunch pails at five o'clock in the morning for another day of work.
I know I sure do.