Union Time: Fighting for Workers’ Rights • 86 min. 2016 • Directed by Matthew Barr
In 1993, a group of employees at the Smithfield Pork Processing Plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, began to work with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union to organize the 5,000 workers at the plant. In 2008, after a 16-year struggle, they won the right to form a union.
Jobs in meatpacking are among the most dangerous in the country. Once dominated by skilled butchers working in unionized jobs, the industry gradually moved packing plants to rural areas in right-to-work states. What used to be respected as skilled labor is now broken down into assembly-line tasks, with workers—many of them African American or immigrant—often treated as expendable. Dangerous conditions, wage theft, intimidation, and abuse are rampant.
Union Time weaves together labor rights and civil rights to show how unions can be a potent force for economic and social justice. Above all, it celebrates the courage of meatpacking workers who refused to give up through a 16-year-long struggle.
What People Are Saying about Union Time: Fighting for Workers’ Rights
Union Time tells one of the most important stories of the modern labor movement—the organizing drive and the victory at the Smithfield Tar Heel plant, in a right-to-work, southern, reactionary state. Deeply observed by its director Matthew Barr, honestly told in the voices of the workers—black, white, and Hispanic—and narrated by Danny Glover, Union Time should be seen by all who care about social justice. What a wonderful celebratory documentary!
—Anne Lewis, Documentary filmmaker, Senior Lecturer, UT Austin, elected member of Central Texas State Employees Union Executive Board
The film is fantastic . . . Especially in making the voices and personalities of the workers the centerpiece. A model of socially committed filmmaking.”
—Lance Compa, consultant, Human Rights Watch and author of Blood, Sweat and Fear: Workers’ Rights in Meatpacking and Poultry Plants (2006)
Union Time is a powerfully told story of an inspiring fight by mostly rural Black and Brown workers hidden away in the southeastern corner of North Carolina. It is rare to get a chance to hear and see a story told by the workers themselves as it unfolds, and watch them succeed against the intensive resistance of a massive multinational corporation. This story puts the lie to the stereotypes and misinformation so pervasive at this moment in history when many have written off labor unions, where the term “working-class“ seems to be reserved for white workers, and where the South is often labeled hopelessly backward. Today, as we fight many uphill battles for justice on many fronts, this film provides a glorious illustration of a victory with many hopeful lessons.
—Gene Bruskin, veteran labor organizer & tactician, Director of Justice@Smithfield campaign, playwright
Union Time shows us the world of meat processing, specifically Smithfield Foods in Tar Heel, NC, the world’s largest pork processing facility, and how a diverse collection of workers built a movement to achieve what must be considered the 21st century’s greatest union victory. Part of Matt Barr's larger Unheard Voices Project, Union Time collects and preserves the complete stories (not just the excerpts used in the film) of scores of working people, men and women whose voices truly would be “unheard” without this important documentary work.
—Chuck Bolton, Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Matt Barr's film is an important tool that can be used in training and education settings with workers everywhere. The Smithfield story … represents one of the largest pure private sector organizing victories in a generation, and it blends poignant stories of struggle that confront issues of race, class, gender and immigration. The Smithfield tale is universal; it resonates with workers whose experience may be far removed from the killing floor of the largest pork processing plant in the world.
—Peter B. Olney, Retired Organizing Director, ILWU