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Green Delaware Action Alert #88

Supporter of poultry workers arrested in Delaware:
Activist priest arrested at poultry plant

Speak out against arrest!


By CHRISTOPHER THORNE
                   Associated Press
                   02/14/2001

An Episcopal priest who champions the rights of poultry workers was arrested Tuesday for trespassing at a poultry plant in Selbyville [Delaware] where employees are preparing to vote Thursday on whether to keep their union.

Executives with Mountaire Farms Inc. called Selbyville police and lodged a criminal complaint after the Rev. Jim Lewis refused to leave the lobby of the Mountaire building. Dave Tanner, director of human resources, said Lewis was trying to get arrested to get publicity.

"Jim was basically seeking publicity for himself, and insisted on being arrested," Tanner said in a telephone interview.

Lewis said he was trying to hold a prayer vigil, and wanted to talk to plant employees and Mountaire executives. He was waiting for workers outside the plant within an hour of his arrest.

"They didn't want me anywhere near that plant," Lewis said from his home in Bethany Beach. "I was just inside the door and they asked me to leave and I said no, I wanted to meet with the president."

About 960 production workers  workers who clean, cut up and package chickens  are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

In December, some workers petitioned the National Labor Relations Board seeking a vote on whether to decertify the union, which has represented Mountaire workers for nearly 30 years. That decertification vote is set for Thursday.

Al Vincent, UFCW International Poultry Coordinator, said workers have complained to the union about threats and other forms of intimidation by Mountaire supervisors.

Tanner denied there is any intimidation by plant supervisors. "It's typical union tactics. It's absolutely untrue," Tanner said.

Vincent ridiculed the idea Lewis sought to get arrested as a publicity stunt.

"This is not a onetime thing," he said. "Jim Lewis fights day in and day out."

Lewis is in the last year of a sevenyear mission from the Episcopal Diocese of Wilmington with the aim of improving the lives of the poor in southern Delaware.

Members of the Delmarva Poultry Justice Alliance, a coalition of independent chicken growers and poultry workers established by Lewis, were outside the Mountaire plant when Lewis was arrested.

"We went up there today simply as observers to ensure there would be a fair and democratic election," said Carole Morrison, executive director of the Alliance.

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Note from Green Delaware: Port Penn, DE.  February 14, 2001.   
We know Rev. Lewis only slightly, but understand him to be a sincere advocate for poultry industry workers, among the most abused and oppressed anywhere.  This industry has great political power in Delaware and has polluted the environment and used harsh measures to
prevent its workers from organizing and staying organized.   We donít know whether his organization or the Episcopal Diocese of Delaware has opposed the prosecution of a Green Delaware leader.  We donít know the details of this situation, other than whatís in the story above.   Nevertheless, a famous quote seems to apply:

                First they came for the Communists,
                         and I didnít speak up,
                            because I wasnít a Communist.
                      Then they came for the Jews,
                         and I didnít speak up,
                            because I wasnít a Jew.
                      Then they came for the Catholics,
                         and I didnít speak up,
                            because I was a Protestant.
                      Then they came for me,
                         and by that time there was no one
                            left to speak up for me.

                        by Rev. Martin Niemoller, 1945
[Niemoller was a clergyman who opposed the rise of the Nazis in Germany]

We suppose Delaware Governor Ruth Ann Minner is as close to the poultry industry as she is close to the big developers and petro-chemical polluters.  Itís curious that Lewis was never arrested­as far as we know­until she became Governor.

Please consider speaking out against Lewisí arrest.  You can use the information and contacts on our web site.

Let us know what you think. 

Email us at 

GreenDel@dca.net

or contact
Alan J. Muller, Exec. Director
P.O. Box 69
Port Penn, DE 19731
302-834-3466 Voice
302-836-3005 FAX

Green Delaware is funded through membership dues, donations, and grants.
All work is done by volunteers and members including this website. 

This page was last updated on February 15, 2001.
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