Big pork producer, union OK settlement

Smithfield Foods dropped a racketeering and extortion lawsuit against a union, which in turn agreed Monday to end its bitter economic and publicity campaign against the nation's largest pork producer.

As part of the settlement, both sides agreed to rules for a United Food and Commercial Workers organizing election at the world's largest hog slaughterhouse, located in Eastern North Carolina. The settlement was sealed, so it was unclear how or when the election would be conducted.

The company and the union announced the agreement in a joint statement as Smithfield's lawsuit was about to go to trial in federal court.

The union began its campaign against Smithfield in June 2006, trying to pressure the company into unionizing the plant at Tar Heel. The facility has about 4,650 employees and processes as many as 32,000 hogs a day.

The campaign included calls for product boycotts, negative publicity and other actions that Smithfield said amounted to extortion. Smithfield claimed lost sales, interference with contracts and other consequences costing the company about $900 million.

Lawyers for the union argued in court papers and in pretrial hearings that using economic pressure to achieve a lawful purpose, such as setting a union election, was not extortion.

The union has been trying to organize the massive plant for more than a decade.