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Union questions safety check

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Drinking water is safe at the Smithfield Packing plant in Tar Heel, according to the N.C. Department of Labor. However, according to a June 4 complaint sent to the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C., state investigators seemed more interested in employees' union sympathies than safety issues.

On May 23, 16 Smithfield workers sent a complaint to the Labor Department's Division of Safety alleging drinking water was exposed to live pigs, pig blood and other pathogens. The complaint also listed safety issues in the livestock area.

A Labor Department spokesman said four investigators visited for two days and couldn't substantiate the complaints.

However, according to Smithfield employee and union supporter Keith Ludlum, investigator Richard Teachey quizzed him about his union sympathies before broaching the safety complaint.

According to Ludlum, the 15-minute conversation went as follows:

Teachey: "I understand you are real close with the labor guys."

Ludlum: "What do you mean?"

Teachey: "I understand you are real close with the labor guys."

Ludlum: "Do you mean am I pro-union?"

Teachey: "Yes."

Ludlum: "Yes. I am pro-union."

The exchange prompted the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union to file the NLRB complaint, alleging Teachey acted as Smithfield's agent and "coerced workers by asking Ludlum about his union sympathies." The complaint also alleges Teachey attempted "to convince him of the futility of the workers' complaint against Smithfield."

The Labor Department hadn't seen the complaint, a spokesman said, and had no comment.

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