Eddie Steele


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Eddie Steele
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Oral history interview
Eddie Steele ( Interviewee )
Amanda Noll ( Interviewer )
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Oral history
Civil rights movement--Mississippi--History--20th century
Labor unions -- Organizing --Mississippi
United Food and Commercial Workers International Union
African American packing house workers -- Mississippi -- History
Spatial Coverage:
United States of America -- Mississippi


Steele talks about the catfish industry in Mississippi and his work as a UFCW 1529 union representative organizing labor at catfish plants, Kroger stores and nursing homes.

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Source Institution:
UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
Holding Location:
UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program
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All rights reserved by the submitter.
Resource Identifier:
spohp - MFP 066
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The Foundation for The Gator Nation An Equal Opportunity Institution Samuel Proctor Oral History Program College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Program Director : Dr. Paul Ortiz 241 Pugh Hall Technology Coordinator : Deborah Hendrix PO Box 115215 Gainesville, FL 32611 352 392 7168 352 846 1983 Fax The Samuel Proctor O ral History Program (SPOHP) was founded by Dr. Samuel Proctor at the University of Florida in 1967. Its original projects were collections centered around Florida history with the purpose of preserving eyewitness accounts of economic, social, political, re ligious and intellectual life in Florida and the South. In the 45 years since its inception, SPOHP has collected over 5,000 interviews in its archives. Transcribed interviews are available through SPOHP for use by research scholars, students, journalists and other interested groups. Material is frequently used for theses, dissertations, articles, books, documentaries, museum displays, and a variety of other public uses. As standard oral history practice dictates, SPOHP recommends that researchers refer t o both the transcript and audio of an interview when conducting their work. A selection of interviews are available online here through the UF Digital Collections and the UF Smathers Library system. Oral history interview t ranscripts available on the UF D igital Collections may be in draft or final format. SPOHP transcribers create interview transcripts by listen ing to the ori ginal oral history interview recording and typing a verbatim d ocument of it. The transcript is written with careful attention to refl ect original grammar and word choice of each interviewee; s ubjective or editorial changes are not made to their speech. The draft trans cript can also later undergo a later final edit to ensure accuracy in spelling and format I nterviewees can also provide their own spelli ng corrections SPOHP transcribers refer to the Merriam program specific transcribing style guide, accessible For more information about SPOHP, visit http://oral.histor y.ufl.edu or call the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program office at 352 392 7168. October 2013


MFP 066 Interviewee: Eddie Steele Interviewer: Amanda Noll Date: September 24, 2010 N: Hi, this is Amanda Nol l -S: Eddie Steele. N: And F: Diamia Foster. N: Mr. Steele? S: Isola Missis sippi I was born and raised here. N: Is that where your family is from as well? S: Yeah, my family also from there. N: And so you grew up in Mississippi your whole life? S: Yeah, my whole life, sure has. N: Alright. Can you talk a little bit about g rowing up, maybe what your parents did? S: My father, he was a farmer H e works on a farm, and my mother, she actually work at the fish processing plant, yeah, she work there until her health fail her. She work there from [19]74 up into 1996. She was able to, you know, send kids to co llege and kids to school working at, you know, the fish plant there. And I also started workin g there in 1987, yeah I was a production worker and I was


MFP 066; Steele; Page 2 pr omoted to a personnel counselor. B ut then before then I was a unionist steward, yeah I was a union steward. I also participated in the strike that they had T hey had a strike here in, I think it was [19]88 [19]88, [19]89 had a strike, I participated in a strike, and I was a union steward, and I got promoted to a personnel c ounselor for the company. But you know through all that I was a loyal union advocate force, you know, bein g able to do all I can for the union and for the people. And interesting enough, I just got a after all those years I desired to be a union rep, bu t I just been a rep now for goin g on two months, yep, g the hang of it, kinda enjoy it. B much the cause I was a per sonnel counselor, and what that, in turn, I deal with the employees any way, over s ix hundred employees been to personnel counseling. So what I do now, so same six hundred employees that I reprimanded, terminated, and suspended I got opportunity to represent them now, against the company, sure do, if anything came up. N: to hear maybe a little bit abou T S: No. W hen it started out , same without the union. As you know Mississippi is a right to work state so that they can pretty much pay what they want to pay I take that part back T hey got to pay the minimum wage according to the law but then, in other benefit for us, you know, vacation, insurance, and even for us a fifteen minute break, y ou know, it came about that they seen the need to have a union, and with the union, you know, you


MFP 066; Steele; Page 3 can just see from my mother started working there she had no bene fits. B ut you know when she left she had insurance, she had a pension plan that she drew from every mo nth after her health failed her, s o the union improved things a contract negotiation now, you know, they wanna take certain things away from you, t every time a contract is up to be negotiated. I onstant struggle to keep what you got. Because, see, companies, they wanna take away, you know, right now, you know, in the contract negotiation, they wanna take, you know, take people weeks for twenty year, they wanna take one of those away. So, you know, you stop and think that sound pretty bad, you know, goin g on now with the fish compan ies, and I guess as well as corporate America using the economy, you know, as a way to try to hold back on individual, but then, the company run every day, they run the same amount of fish every day [Laughter] So, y g to maintain benefits, so what they do in fact they kinda, like, keep us as union rep pretty busy, you know, because of the fact that, you know, you ha


MFP 066; Steele; Page 4 N: C ould you talk a little bit about the work that you do actually at the factories, and kind of an everyday overview of what you do? S: Well what we basically do, we basically go and what you call service to plant. So we do, we go down in the break room, go in the break area, we sit and we meet with the employees, see d o they have any complaints, anything of that nature. And then t that arise, and the conflict is basically the interpretation of the contract. So if a person feel like their rights been violated, aside from the contract, we got what you call a shop steward. Shop stewards are not employed by the union, per se ; these i ndividual that volunteer their time and effort to make sure that their coworkers are bein g treated rig ht. So, what they do is they what you call our first line of defense as relate to contract interpretation. [Telephone rings] S: So when they feel like a n employee brought in the office, just say wrote up for something, and they feel like it w say the employee decide to write a person up, for performance write up, and they grievance. And a grievance is where they say the contract was violated, and then the first step is they take it to the supervisor. If they get no result from the supervisor, they take it to management. And if management feel the same way meeting and we go over the grievance, and make a determination if it was in


MFP 066; Steele; Page 5 fact a contract violation. And then in some cases the employer, they see a need to say, well that write up is taken from the file. If that violation in fact cause the person to be suspended for three days, then what we do is we go in and in a grievance settlement we stipulate that, hey, this person was suspended unjust, we want them to be compensated for the three day suspension. So that we pretty much do on a daily basis. Then we go out also, we go out if the need arise, that a place that we see that might need union representation and we go out and we try to organize. So we got a organizer that goes out and talk to the employees about a union and then if they feel like they want a union then we go out and we have to help them to sign union cards, cards to say that they want a union. A nd once we get thirty percent of the folks in the plants that want a union then, you know, we file with the labor g to organize another fish plant here. So we do that on a daily basis. And Visit the plants, visit the stores, visit the employees and make sure that everything is N: How many plants do you guys represent currently? S: Well, I think we got probably I think we got in essence about eight thousand members. Y the local 1529. W hat we do we basically represent here in the Delta, we basically represent the fish plants, but we also represent the Kroger stores, and we also represent nursing home s. But like I said Kroger stores, but we do represent the fish plants, the Kroger stores, and as well as


MFP 066; Steele; Page 6 nursing homes. And right now repr esent. N: When the union began did the workers ever second guess that you would be a benefit to them? S: Well, they k new, cause they been in the South you know T he South got a lot of history, conti nue to have a history, you know: the South got a lot of history of . cause, you know, that been abolished years ago, but we just say cheap labor. You know cheap labor with no benefits. S o the South got a history of that. So, you know, any thinking person in their right mind, a nd then knowin g that Mississippi is a right to work state, that you really, you know, you in a right to wo rk state, you have to almost in order for the labor board or in orde r for EEOC civil right violation, and you have to prove that you were mistr eated because of race, religion, sex, or age. You know, if you can prove those you got a case but anything else you and those are hard to prove, you know, in a right to work state J ust say if they decided hey, that Eddie Steele he making fifteen dollar an hour, he been here twenty year, well guess go. W e can have somebody and pay t hem eight dollar an hour, and I still get my work done. So a right to work state, you know. Y ou really have to do but a few things for you; they have to take taxes out your check, you k now, pay you minimum wag it. S


MFP 066; Steele; Page 7 S and they only do do it as a stipulat ion from the federal government. So, n ow try to work and exist [laught er] in an environment like that. I mean, you all be lookin g over your shoulders cause the union help people to gain job security, e step that they take, you know. F irst they have to give you a verbal warning, then a written warning, you kno w, on performances, then you have to get three write ups to be suspended, and then the fourth one you be terminated. Well they could just come in an d fire you for no reason at all. T your services any more. So to afford them job security first and foremost, but at the same time, it give them the opportunity to have benefits, you know, to make their life feel dignified. Can you imagine bein g a mother, and you got children, and then you have to, you know know to say I got a headache, and we know the stages of a severe h eadache, B ut of a state on takin g your child to the emer gency room cause you , right now in this contract that we gonna vote to ratify, the union members gonna be votin g to ratify two contrac ts next Tuesday, next Wednesday. S o, you know, they either gonna vo te to ratif y it or they gonna vote it down. So insurance played a big part in it because they


MFP 066; Steele; Page 8 the things for employees, you know, insurance, vacat ion time. S u p to five week vacation, you know, and some of the benefits exceed that of the federal government, and other big corporations, because they negotiated that. They get their birthday off they get I think eight or nine holida ys with seven or eight holidays a year off. They get time and a half after eight hours on a five day work week. Because see before, can you imagine coming in at of course you runnin g fish. W hen the last fish is processed then you go home but see there was a time when they would come in at eight clock before they get off of work. So they took advantage of that. They took advantage of the fact that m can to ca n So the union and decided, with the union and the members got together and decided this is unfair. So they decided to negotiate on hey, if you gonna work us after eight hours, you gonna pay us time and a half, on a five day work week. On a four day workweek, anything after ten is time and a half. Paul Ortiz : So S: Well, they had to pay overtime after forty because the federal government require that. But then you gotta think, j ust say, well Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, we gonna work from ca n to ca and th en, you know, we might cut back. B ut at the same token, see, can you imagine that nety eight percent women working the catfish plant? Can night, day after day after day? And they was


MFP 066; Steele; Page 9 taking advantage of them because the thing of the fact is, management gone home. A nd then these are women who staying up, they missing they kids, making sure they kid get they homework, miss cooking and stuff, so they took c an to can if it suits our purpose. So now, since they p ay time and a half, they done restructured all that. So they had to restructure all that because, see, they do costing them a whole lot, so now they had to restructure things in such a way that em that much because now. All of that came about because of union negotiations. So the employee they see the instant benefit from having a union. But on the same token, you tle skeptical not about the union, but then they be a little skeptical based on what the company might do to them, that they trying to form a union, so, you know, this campaign we on now, we making to organize it N: Can you talk a little bit more about th e early days of the union, and how the workers, were they afraid of losing their jobs, were they afraid of the consequences that the union cou ld bring negatively on them as well? S: Well, what happened let me try to get my dates right, now. I t was [19]88, [19]89 when we had a strike here at the plant here in Indianola. At the particular time, I was workin g at the plant in I sola. I had to be at before I actually went to work down there. So, it was pretty tough for a minute


MFP 066; Steele; Page 10 there because we had folks crossing the picket line and of course folks was off work and the union, you know, with the information sure that they had food and they did what they could to sustain them, to strengthen them with There was a pivotal moment in the catfish industry for us union, and it paved the way for a lot of other plants after that to be organized, so I promise you, it was real admirable of t he folks at the particular time. T hey had no idea what the union was all about, and they seen that the union was really powerful, which mean that the union being them, so they came together as a peoples, and they got a lot of different things done, and that strike paved the way for a lot of other places S o what that striking did was actually helped a lot of other plants to see, he what they gonna do. They gonna shut my plant down. So that in itself paved the way for a lot of other plants to get the union, and for them to cooperate with the union when it came down to a cont ract negotiation at other plant. So, at one time, we thought it was gonna come to that again, on this contract, so it still is remained to be seen, because, you know, we been negotiating this thing for a couple years now, so we feel like, you know, this mi ght be something that the folk s can live with, this one here. B ut then, of course, the union is the members. cause they be the one walking so mething that Tuesday and whether they will or not, but then the thing, the fact of the matter, this here, you know, they have to decide, if they vote it down, they go t to


MFP 066; Steele; Page 11 decide what they gonna do behind that, because it done been going on for so long, so they have to decide whether they wanna walk again, yeah. And the sad thing about it is, this here, is that, you know, we know it as a hard economic time, but then, th e catfish industry, I mean the ones that still open, they holdin g their own. And we try to hope that they negotiate in good faith because, you know, we g to take away from ryin g to make sure that the employee get what just about goin g in and closin g the company down, or goin g in and strippin g a company of all their rights to run t I g fair You know, being fair an d operating in good faith. So we like to think that we try to, and we like to hope that they try to too. B ut then, in the event that they goin g on, and then, the decision to a ccept the contract, or the decision to strike, is really based on them : not the union representatives, not the union officials, but then based on the employees. PO : Mr. Steele, when you first started organizing here, was there a connection between some pe the labor? S: Well yeah, you had some local folks that well, you know, for the most, you always gonna have your min A nd Sara h White she was really instrum ental cause she worked out th ere and she knew a lot of folks. S o you always gonna have your local folks ; your local folks supportin g you. Y ou know, like I said, always your minister always gonna come out, and some of your


MFP 066; Steele; Page 12 local civil right folks that, you know, and then a lot of civil right folks out in your local area, NAACP folks they also gonna lend a hand in help you doin g things, anything that benefit the peoples. N: You began speaking about two contracts that are tryin g to get ratified C ould yo u please elaborate a little bit more one those contracts? S: Well the fi rst contract that they be voting on Tuesd at Isola, which is Consolidated C atfish. The ra tification is gonna be Tuesday in Belzoni, and like I said, there was some changes made because, see, for a minut e there, there was a stalemate. S o they sat down and came up with some concessions on things, and in their opinion they feel like this is a p retty decent contract, you know. A nd we ourselves, as union member s or union officials, you wanna ask, you know, we answer. B ut then, on the same token, we present it to iffy, but them. So they are the one that vote on it, because they are the one that gonna have to live under the condition of the contract for the next three years. So that take place Tuesday. And then Wednesday, the one in Indianola, Delta Pride Y ou, in the contract, first of al l you got your wage increase, your wage scale, then you got your holiday pay T thirty two hours S ee, they gotta guarantee the employee thirty two hours, so,


MFP 066; Steele; Page 13 g up contract too. You know, the thirty two hours, whether the company wanna not guarantee the thirty two hours. So vote on, so the contracts are always changing, a nd we like to see contracts change for the bett er, you know, not for the worse. W your crawfish or any thing that you given us already. S o once again, it gonna be the employees that vote on that. So ; you know certain things in there that they might vote for and certain things they might not. S o at the same token , you know. W e just sit on the sideline and any question that they ask, you know, the preside nt of the company, he be willing then the ultimate decision gonna be up to them. PO : that, say from the time your mother worked? S: W ell, the pay scale is pretty decent. T hey could be improved upon of course, but then, you know, what actually happened is, this last thing it took us a while for us to come to terms on these contract, so they kinda can put us behind a couple years on pay increase And, of course, when minimum wage s went up, pay increase went up. S o anybody that was under minimum wages, they had to come up to minimum wage, so PO : The federal minimum wage?


MFP 066; Steele; Page 14 S: The federal minimum wage, yeah S o big need to make ad justment on the wages right now. You know, the wages before was pretty decent N ow in this proposed contract here an in crease on what they were before. S o, you know. B ut then, about the wages, I pers onally think that they would still be below standard, you know, because the have a union: it. They not gonna do the fact that, you know, we all realize that we all have to ta ke care of our families and stuff. B ut then they family on $2,500 a week, how do they think the employees gonna take care of they family of $ 250 a week? So, you know, you Yeah, cause company, they want more for themselves, and t hey want less for the employees. E ach year go by, the gap between the rich and the poor widen, because of greed. Now they have to fight for everything they get, have to, because the company not gonna volunteer to do anything, sure not. Yo u know, you would like to think that if a company you know, profit sharing, exist, but profit sharing can exist in the stand point of, hey, the company doing h appen in the South. [L So because they know that without the union


MFP 066; Steele; Page 15 you know. One thing that they do, you know, a company can right out show favoritism if t hey want to. A guy got a friend; if a guy got some folks he know, without a union you can bring a guy in and pay him what you want to pay him, you can let a guy go unjust just to f ill his spot. S o, with a union contract, see, that bring about a certain amount of job security for the employees. N: D o you guys of the union ever feel at risk probably intimidated maybe by the other companies who pro bably try to bring any benefits to the workers that you guys maybe cannot bring to them? S: which is a company that we tryin g to organize right now, one of the strategies that most companies try to do go in and offer a little bit more wages to just try to get the employee mind off something And then once that ov er with, then they back to being what they use d to be. B ut once a contract is written in stone, the only concession have to be made have to be done by both parties. Now, you know, the union always in favor of the employees getting better benefits. S o the company say, well, we gonna get some money, yo u know; we no t gonna be opposed to that at all. But, on the flipside of that is it kinda locks it in for those three years, you know. If they c as good as we thought we gonna do, we concession on both parts, sure do. So, no, we not intimidated by the standpoint of them offerin g more if the contract is locked in. When you organize, when a company offer employees


MFP 066; Steele; Page 16 something more, they gotta stop and think, you know, why they offerin g me this now? Is it because of the fact that we tryin g to form a union to better ourselves? And for the most part, I mean, common thinkin g they tryin g You k now, in the contract, it stipulate that we as union rep can visit the plants. I mean, there certain stipulations based on us coming and goin g certain stipulations based on us signin g f time whi ch you call clean up or sign up. W e go in periodically and sign the folks period of time, they become believers. You know, like last night we went down to a particular plant on the night s hift. W e got ahead about twelve non members and last night, fortunate enough, I signed six of those up. You know, they been there for several years. We did a campaign about three weeks ago, we signed some folks that had been non members since 1991. So, you know, you always gaining members because they begin to see big picture, that hey, they not know, unless you under a union contract, so, you know, we pick up folks along the way. We have disgruntled folk, but then, if they fail to see, they sho cause we try to h elp them. We challenge a person. I f you disgruntled with how things are, become a union member, so the next time the contract is up, those i deas that you got, if you a payin g member, you got the right to address those, because you are a member. And then we challenge folks on, g anything? Become a member. You


MFP 066; Steele; Page 17 g and if you guys as a member get together and vote for that to be a part of your s and union officials overseeing the employees and overs eein g that that they think they want in their contract. You know, and they have to want to vote on it, so, PO : S: at they wish they would go away [L aughter] And see then, especially because of the economic slide down now, in my opinion, most companies are usin g this econom ic thing as a means of not doing anything for folks. Because, see, to be honest about it, some co fell off at all. A s a matter o f fact, some companies are doing much better now, you know. Y ou listen to the news, the n ews say that companies are doing much g that a lot of companies are just holdin g back. A lot of c ompanies done made a record surplus, they just holdin g back on they money g back on they money, they just hopin g that somethin g happen, you know, so that they can hold they money l g And some of these fish plants doin g they are. PO : every day. [L au ghter]


MFP 066; Steele; Page 18 S: I just you So what that does just say the crop for January. I n January during Lent season is when they do a lot of fish, so they might be scrappin g because of the t feed. So, I mean, they have times when the size that they lookin g for is not available. You know, because certain companies want certain size of fish, you know Y ou got your three to five, five to seven, seven to nine, nine to eleven, then you got your w hole fish in the same pounds or the same That be the only thing that a company be pretty much worried about is the availability of fish in the sizes. You know, other than that they run it. That might hamper them a little bit, but then that soon take care of itself. You have little snags in there where things might slow up, you know, periodically, but then other than that, companies, they do pretty good. I come to find out that in most that they feel comfortable with. O nce that get to be infringed upon, they get a little nervous, and the f irst thing they do, they cutting back with the employees. They never cut back with manage ment. [Laughter] W hen they get to cuttin g they never sayin g that we cuttin g anybody in g nobody that make $70,000; we cutting folks that make 15. They take care of they own, and so, you know, we try to encourage 100% membership at vario


MFP 066; Steele; Page 19 that, we strive to do that because, see, it says a lot to a company that, you know, that ev S o that you might divide us. And so look what we try to encourage a mongst them. We firmly let overseers, to make sure that they vote upon, that they voting their contract. I N: Yo u said the catfish plants, they are holding up on their own right now. What benefits do you think if a new catfish farm is, you know, productive what benefits do you think that would bring in? S: try to follow the same pay scale and stuff because they there are gripes here And you know, they try to say that, you know, say like America union plant. T hey try to say that g non same u in California, a fish to you in California, he sellin g fish in Michigan, those ause if I negotiate with you on a over here. So do this and able to do that. Because see now, all lot of these companies sell this fish twice as high as it should be, they sure do. Yeah they got government contracts for schoo l, they got all kinds of contracts and stuff to keep them in


MFP 066; Steele; Page 20 pockets, sure do. Yeah A s a matter of fact, one of these companies afforded a contract from the federal government fo r about f ive million dollars because it s from Scripps So yeah, they do wh at it takes to stay in business. T wanna pay nothin g PO : They probably got a pretty good rate with the government for that. S: Yeah they do. T hey gonn a make a lot of money off of that, sure will. Now they might be separate entities, or separate companies, but they get together on stuff the government say, well, we gonna come in the catfish industry, we wanna buy Because see you American Cat Consolidated Catfish. W e hear the government gonn a come in a buy some fish, so say, well, the government coming here, you know onna get together so that when the government come in, you know, everybody around the up? [ Laughter] See not. You know and we not trying to go down and tell them how to run they company, but all we want is for them to be fair with the employee seeking to secure: fairness from them, for the employees, and then we like for everything to be done in g ood faith. We try to do things in good faith with our


MFP 066; Steele; Page 21 members, and we like for them to do things in good faith with us, because see, anything that we get from them, then we convey to our members, we like for it to be as accurate as possible B us look like the villain. what, you know. W e got to rely on the market. W e gotta rely on their production down there. Y ou sit here and make no money but you do in g some thing with it it, see? You know, you killin g it to do what with it? [ L aughter] You killin g it to put i t in your freezer or cooler? No. S ee all that we rely on based on the market, based on what they produced, that pretty much determines how they do in their business. PO : So you really have to do a market analysis about where the companies are selling, what their markets are ? S: Yeah, as much as possible to see. And then, now, we do for production wise Y ou know, we kno w pretty much what they run on a daily basis, because of the fact that, you know, you can kinda estimate that based on how long the up different, as far as running. Y ou know, some compan y might have twelve filet lin es, some might have five or six, and we pretty much know what most companies run per day or per week. And when we go in to negotiate, we try to do it in good faith, not ba sed on how to strangle somebody. S ay, well, we just gonna do this here because we kno doin g this here. N o g this, we know this


MFP 066; Steele; Page 22 he PO : When g that when your mother started working, she started working the early [19]70s right? S: Yeah. PO : And which plant was she working at? S: Well, what they did, before they got some larger plants they had little small plants. T h ey would kill a little bit here, kill a little bit there. And then some of them small plants spin off into a large plant. Now the one plant that she worked off spinned off to the large plant sown ther e in I sola, Country Select Consolidated Catfish. Like I said, they started out workin g T hey started out, like I said, they workin g all night, they limit for us insurance, they limit for us benefits, and then when the union came on the scene, you know, all that changed. PO : Were there conditions with issues with, say, repetitive motion ? S: Yeah, yeah. T hen they, you know, a lot of that we had to do with, and a l ot of that OSHA, the federal government had to do with, because of, you know,


MFP 066; Steele; Page 23 time when a person began to have repetitive motion that companies seek to terminate them. PO: If they started getting injured ? S: Yeah, they sure did T scrutinize their job performance, they begin t o put them und er heavy scrutiny from the standpoint of hopin g that they mess up and I can fire them, so that I W hen a pe rson got a legitimate complaint then at first. Your wrist hurtin g you, I mean, you gotta say that in an undertone. [ L that point forward to Y ou know, and e that in my advantage now being a union rep, you know, I kinda like, go in and just try to s ee things, you know, be objective, you know, you Y prejudiced at all, and you got to rely on your union stewards, which is the shop steward, which is th workin g with the employees. See we got shop stewards in pretty much every department, so they kinda like the eyes and the ears of the operation. So they pretty much kn ow the history of what goes on there. And then they, you know, relay it to us as rep, you kno w, if the need arise to do that. B ut then, now


MFP 066; Steele; Page 24 daily basis, you know. F or us, they write grievances, and if they say t hat this is a violation of the contract, and if the companies seek to reason with them on it, and then say, well, yeah, you right, and then withdraw the write up, or withdraw PO : An d what are some of the typical grievances? S: Some of the typical grievances are, first an d foremost, an invalid write up. T hey were wrote up unjust, you know, then a typical grievan ce is that management is showing favoritism. A typical grievance is that they not bein g dignified as an typical grievance. Your company official, they favor this person because this person or this group of people can do something for them, you know, individually ; they favor them. T contract we got, zero tolerance on stuff like that. So, and we gonna be zero to lerance on favoritism, you know. E excep tion at all. That makes our job easier, it makes their job easier, sure do. PO : Has there been problems with sexual harassment in the plant, with women workers? S: No. A y. [L aughter] In my twenty som e years, very very very seldom have a case of that; very very


MFP 066; Steele; Page 25 questions asked, we both suppor harassment in the workplace. PO : about say like the contract negotiations that comes out in the newspaper But when the fish come in to the plant, could you describe, like, what workers do say on the filet line ? S: Oh okay now. First you got what you call a live receivin g. T they unload the fish off the t rucks at. T hey come into the gra ding area. The grading area is where the fish is distributed to the filet machine. Each filet machine is designed to run a certain size. The sizes that come in, they sepa rate the fish according to size and they go to the appropriate filet machine. Then the first machine is the deheader, where they actually take the whole fish and put it on this machine that comes around. Y ou stick your fish on there, it cuts the fish head off and then it rips the fish down the middle. Then it goes to what you call the 184 m achine. W hat it does, they take the deheaded fish the fish that ripped down the middle and the put it on a cella r ; actually takes the skin off, just splits it down the middle, take the skins off, and it come out as two filets. Al l right. T he filet come out of the filet machine, it goes to what you call the filleters. W hat the filleters do is they take the dorsal fin out the back of it, and the tail bone, it flips it chille r. The chille r is thirty two degrees or less. I t actually sits in the chiller, and it takes all the film and grease off it. Then it goes through other sizers, to the filet pack area, and the sizers distribute them according to size and knocks them off


MFP 066; Steele; Page 26 into various boxes and various bags. Then you got, on the flip side of that, you got the manual side. Now the manual side is where they do whole fish. Se e, whole fish gotta be done manually. PO : Oh okay. S: So the fish actually come in the plant, and they got what you call h ead saws Hit saw that you cut your meat PO : Oh yeah. S: So they actually take the fish, and they cut the fish head off. PO : So S: Yeah. T he fish come down the guy, he can do probably about, shoot, about fifteen or so a minute, just cuttin g their heads of f. He cuts their heads off, and then they in turn go down the chute to what you call a ripper. T he ripper pick it up and have to take a knife and just rip it, they rip it at the top. Then once it leaves the ripper, it goes to what you call the long gone or the eviscerater. The eviscerater, what that person does, they got what you call a long pipes that got su ction A nd you take the fish, and you push it up against that pipe, and that pipe take all the viscera out of it. Then the fish then is in turn, it goes on a belt, it goes on what you call a skinner. T hey got forty or thirty of these skinners, they have to take the fish and run both sides of the fish over the


MFP 066; Steele; Page 27 skinner, and get the skin off. Then it goes to the chiller. O nce aga in, the whole fish chiller, and it chills, and then, the sizer, distributes it according to size, and then they do the whole fish. So you got a whole fish area, and you got a filet area c ause different markets want different fish Some markets, the Chic ago market likes whole fish, other markets like filets, s A nd then they box it up and they ship it out the back door. O: How many people work at the plant? S: Now, the one in I x hundred employees down the re, you know, they got at the one in I sola. The one at Delta I think is about a couple hundred. Then they got a plant in Belzoni got about sixty folks, where they got a freeze tunnel down there, because they use CO2 to freeze it hard. When you go to a sto re and buy your filets and they frozen hard, they actually frozen hard at the plant. O : Oh S: ey can unthaw in a a matter of five minutes or so. Y eah you fry or bake the filet. Now, at the one in I sola, they also take the offal, the remains and they make fertilizer out of it. And they also take it and they g like hamburger meat. O : Oh okay.


MFP 066; Steele; Page 28 S: And they make pet food product out of that. And then they take it and they get the oil and they cure it some kinda way, and they make fertilizer out of it. O : So S: But now, you stop and think, now, on those operations, the fertilizer operation and the offal operation for making the pet food product, you have very little money. So tons of money off your remains. A in the store, and I ween the bottle and ingredients. Y ou got water and meat in some solution and you sell the eight dollar bottle, s ee the kinda overhead you making off that? O : S: You can take a cas e of it which is twenty four or forty eight in a case you can take two cases of it and pay your labor for the whole day. O : Well now, Multibloom is, what is that? S: O : Oh okay, okay. S: That organic fertili zer, they mak e that down there. S o you got very very little, I mean, you got twenty five percent overhead off that, if that much. And you do g money. You see what g ?


MFP 066; Steele; Page 29 O : Oh yeah. O h yeah. S: And then you say the offal is producin g your fish, and you say you not makin g money. See, Consolidated Catfish a fish plant with other different entities connected to it. So yeah. A nd you say, and th employees that helped you to make all this money. And from a humanitarian standpoint, I find it real bad, because see these people that helped you grow your business, and you makin g hundreds of th ousands of dollars and you payin g them nothin g and they gotta almost go out and walk in the hot heat or the cold and say, do me right. [L really see it in the early years, but then you can see in the early years, well hey, W e wanna be able to afford the same opportun ity to send our kids to college and send our kids to private school, and do things for our fa mil y you can do for your family. W e wanna be able to afford the same opportunity, so, you know, here we are, we doin g this to say that, hey, treat us right. Twenty five years later, we still doing the same thing? [L bitter pill to swallow, su re is. people that was willing to labor har d. Y ou know Rose Turner she stays in Memphis S he


MFP 066; Steele; Page 30 drives and stays down here three and four days a week, you know, to make sure. She fought real hard, you know. O : She seems like an amazing person. S: She really is, she fought real hard. She burn the candle on both ends, sure do. And I really appreciate the opportunity to be able to work with her and to train under her, you k S he know all these people about hard, you know, it amazed me. T he other day she was talkin g about a particular person, [Laughter] I mean these are her people. A nd then, the thing about it, I feel good about the fact that she entrusts me with her, sure do. N: Do you feel so strongly about the workers as a union rep knowing that your mother went through the same thing? S: Yeah, I really do, because see I went through it to a certain degree, like I said F or a couple years, I went throu gh the same thing, and done kinda like seein g both perspective of it you know, me bein g in management, you know, workin g for the company, it really gave me an opportunity to be able to do more for the folks, you know, in that position also. Not that I was you know, I was loyal to the company, and I was loyal to the employees, so anytime I had an opportunity to do something for them extra, you know like they have to go get wage forms to verif y their wages as far as getting the ir subsidy from the government. A lot of times I would take the initiat ive to fax it, versus them going, so not take time off work. A lot of times I took the initiative to


MFP 066; Steele; Page 31 make a phone call, you know, to make sure. A lot of times I took initiative to do a g to secure to praises for myself, I was just doin g what I should do as a personnel person, and as a human being, and as an individual being able to help other folks. So I work with the union, try to help organize and different things with the union, so this opportunity just came up A nd I been wanting this opportunity, and continue to serve the f olks, and try to build a legacy, like Rose Turner and Sara h White did here locally with the folks, you know ; try to be one of, hey, these are folks I know I can depend on, that I know that first and foremost they gonna demonstrate unselfishness, and be her e as many hours as it take to make things right. N: Have you gotten many community response s to the formation of the union? H ow does the local community feel? S: The ones that got knowledge of it, they for certain that bein g here in the South and dealin g N: Oh D o you have anything else to say, just if we wanna wrap it up? S: Well before you guys and


MFP 066; Steele; Page 32 N: We really appreciate S: the union and where we are today, and we are as strong today as when we started out. N: s great to hear about this work, i S: Yeah. A nd we gained momentum, they hiring on new reps, and as a matter of fact we got ot her l ocals that merged with the UFCW. W e had two locals that g out and helpin g them to service their membership, helpin g them to grow, and helpin g them to take care of their folks, and help t hem to negotiate a better contract for their employees as well. N: Okay. A l l right, well thank you so much, we really appreciate this. S: Thank you. [End of interview] Audit edited by: Sarah Blanc, January 2014 Final edited by: Diana Dombrowski, Januar y 21, 2014