Pitman Farms rejects workers demand for higher wages
By Robert Stevens
MORONI—Scores of American Samoan migrant workers who originally came to the mainland for job opportunities at the turkey processing plant went on a labor strike this week.
Dozens of migrant workers gathered outside the Pitman Family Farms-owned Norbest turkey processing plant in Moroni on Monday at 1:30 p.m. They waved Samoan flags, sang hymns and spoke of solidarity as they protested for higher wages.
The workers-on-strike, which numbered nearly 50 during the demonstration on Monday, submitted a petition with written signatures, which entailed the reasons for their strike and what changes they wanted from Pitman Family Farms in order to go back to work.
“We have served this company for more than a year, some more than two, while others left during drastic times, and we believe in our hearts we deserve a raise,” the petition reads.
The workers specified the wage increase they wanted: A 70 percent boost from $10.50 to $15 per hour.
The letter goes on to say that the workers regularly work 12-15 hours a day during the “fresh season” and without them the company would not be able to fulfill the vendor orders.
The letter closes with, “We love this company but we deserve to be treated more humanely.”
Lynne Roux, HR Manager for Pitman Farms’ Moroni operation, was on hand during the strike trying to convince the workers to return to their stations.
“This is not the way to do it,” Roux told the Messenger. “We do not take lightly to strikes. We are happy to have a one on one conversation with each of them about their grievances, but if they’re not willing to come back to work today, we will take it as a voluntary resignation.”
The strike organizer, Pam Von Dinklage, had been working as the HR interface to the migrant workers, and her duties included making arrangements for the workers to come from American Samoa to work at the turkey plant.
Von Dinklage was terminated from the company on Friday, and said it was a wrongful termination. During Monday’s demonstration, Von Dinklage said she was “willing to walk away” if her people could get a better wage. The workers on strike expressed vocal support for Von Dinklage, and could often be heard telling Pitman Farms employees that they would “only listen to Pam.”
“We have a right to express ourselves through economic strike,” Von Dinklage told the Messenger. “These people deserve better pay.”
Samoan worker Lucy Misa defended Von Dinklage, saying, “She is the heart of everyone. She is the one who put all the effort in to get us here. Our people work hard for this company. They don’t understand that, for us, family means no one gets left behind. ”
The migrant workers are employees that Pitman Farms sourced from American Samoa, where financial opportunity can be scarce. Since American Samoa is a U.S. territory, the migrant workers are U.S. nationals, and have a more direct path to full citizenship than someone from outside of the U.S. territories who came to the 50 states to work. As such, they are not in Utah on a work visa, and their employment is not a condition of legal residency here.
Von Dinklage said she and the workers understand Utah is a right-to-work state, but they have found offers of employment under better terms in other Utah cities. She said they wanted to stay with Pitman Farms, but they needed better pay and since the strike was unsuccessful, they have plans to accept offers elsewhere.
Von Dinklage said they are planning to leave for prearranged jobs and housing in St. George immediately.
“Mr. Pitman was nice enough to accept the people back who doubted my plans of work and housing,” she said.