American & Italian Meat Workers Build Links

US UFCW Citterio Meat Team Builds Links with Italian Unions
Posted to the IUF website 19-Feb-2009

A team of workers from the US branch of Italian deli meat company Citterio traveled from Pennsylvania to Parma to meet with their Italian colleagues on 13-14 January 2009. 'Our intention' explains Michele Kessler, UFCW Local 1776 Secretary-Treasurer 'is to create a long-term relationship with the Italian trade union, to better understand ideas and principles that can help us solve some of the outstanding issues in the US labour reality, especially those related to working conditions in terms of health and safety, health care and wages'.

The meeting took place at the CGIL's Parma Chamber of Labour. Communication between the UFCW group and a delegation of 25 FLAI-CGIL representatives from the 7 Citterio plants located in Italy was facilitated by the IUF and allowed a discussion over two different realities. 'In the US' – commented Ivan Comotti, National Secretary of FLAI CGIL – 'a national welfare state is missing, and that is why it is important to continue this cooperation to keep the social standards high within this company and the industry, including high product quality, food safety, worker health and safety as well as fair remuneration'.

The UFCW 1776 Citterio delegation also visited Groupe Smithfield/Campofrío-owned Parma ham factory "Al Ponte" to have a direct feel of the production process and of the organization of work in Italy. Despite a request by FLAI to let the US delegation visit the Citterio plant in Parma, the company refused to let its US workers in. The US delegation also visited the Ham Museum of Langhirano. The 2-day meeting enabled the US participants to explore the way trade unions negotiate in Italy and to hear about the local key practices and principles of industrial relations, shortly before the expiry of the contract of US Citterio workers.

Following the visit, Citterio workers in the US are now wearing FLAI CGIL stickers on their helmets and keep in close touch with their Italian Brothers and Sisters. Two framed FLAI-CGIL banners are hanging namely from UFCW1776 headquarters outside Philadelphia and the other in its Northeastern Pennsylvania office, where the union negotiates with Citterio.

The exchange consolidated an already existing solidarity linkage between the two unions that proved critical in 2006, when international communication enabled UFCW Local 1776 to negotiate an improved agreement for its Citterio US members.