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Court Says Smithfield Walkout Is Not Protected

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) - A walkout of employees angered by the firing of their supervisors is not a legally protected action, the 4th Circuit ruled.

Employees for QSI, a cleaning contractor hired by Smithfield Packing Co., which owns a hog-slaughtering plant in North Carolina, walked off the job in November 2003 after supervisor Antonio Cruz and plant manager Manuel Plancarte were fired. Cruz and Plancarte had been sympathetic to workers when the safety department called for more discipline.

After the firings, Cruz ran through the plant, shouting at workers to leave their posts. He claimed division manager Owen Patterson chased him through the building with a "shiny object," but was hosed down by police before he could catch Cruz. Patterson allegedly tracked Cruz down and "forcibly removed him from the plant."

The National Labor Relations Board found Smithfield in violation of federal labor law for threatening, beating and falsely arresting employees during the walkout.

But the circuit said the walkout was not protected under the law, because employees were not protesting actual working conditions.

To rule otherwise "would inevitably blur the line between employers and employees and potentially create a CEO-by-committee approach," Judge Williams wrote. Petition for review granted. See ruling.


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