HAMPTON, Va. (Nov. 17, 2017) — Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications Assistant Professor Lynn Waltz has burst onto the publishing scene with her first book: “Hog Wild: The Battle for Workers’ Rights at the World’s Largest Slaughterhouse.”
A newspaper and magazine journalist for 25 years, Waltz put her investigative reporting skills to work in a compelling expose on worker’s rights at Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork processor.
The University of Iowa Press will publish the book in May. It is featured in the publisher’s Spring 2018 Catalog of Books and is available for pre-purchase now. The publisher’s description of the book compares it to Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” and Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation.”
Waltz, an assistant professor at Hampton University since 2014, is almost beside herself to see 12 years of investigative work come to fruition in a book.
“I’m very excited. It’s been a big transition from writing news and magazine articles to completing a book,” she said. “The research for a book is more expansive and more intensive.”
The work began in 2005. Waltz was gathering information for a freelance article profiling Smithfield Foods for Virginia Business magazine. While reporting, she began discovering dark anecdotes about how the company was breaking national labor laws and was in the throes of investigations and legal battles with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), specifically over labor disputes at Smithfield’s Tar Heel, N.C., processing plant -- the subject of the book.
Smithfield opened the Tar Heel plant in 1992. Workers in the economically depressed area at first were thrilled to have work in the world’s largest processing plant. Soon though, workers left because of the high speed of the work and the high rate of injury. Some were so graphic that she stopped in disgust after a brief description of one worker’s death from falling into a vat processing pork by-products.
Those who stayed with Smithfield attempted to form a union, but the company founds ways, legal and illegal, to prevent it.
Waltz first wrote about the struggle for Virginia Business. She then wrote an article for a July 2005 Portfolio magazine story, outlining horrifying working conditions and focusing on the company’s aversion to unionizing the plant. She continued to investigate, first for her master of fine arts thesis, then to compile into a book. Along the way, she interviewed key players, including Hampton University alumnus Jasper Brown (‘68), a lawyer for the National Labor Relations Board in Winston-Salem, N.C.
“He’s a prominent figure in the book!” Waltz said. “His work was a big reason that the NLRB won their case and the federal appeals that followed against Smithfield.”
The most complex figure, though, was Sherri Bufkin, a senior manager at the Tar Heel plant who was mysterious fired and then turned on Smithfield, becoming a major witness for the NLRB in its investigation. Waltz spent countless hours conducting rambling interviews with Bufkin, revealing corrupt practices that were met with a smear campaign by United Food and Commercial Workers Union. Eventually, workers were successful in voting to unionize the plant in 2008.
Waltz was not alone in exposing the Tar Heel plant, and the body of journalism forms a significant part of the 280-page book. She is quick to point to investigative stories by Rolling Stone and the New York Times. Her biggest tip of the hat in completing this book is to Tar Heel’s nearby newspaper, the Fayetteville Observer, which covered the struggle for 16 years.
“This is the first time the entire story has been told from beginning to end,” Waltz said. “This is the first look inside the court cases and the first time the whole story has been put together.”
One early review notes: “Waltz’s examination of Smithfield Foods’ campaigns against unionism in the modern meat industry is vivid and haunting. Her book offers compelling insight into the fate of the modern American labor movement and, crucially, evidence for why the United States is increasingly divided between rich and poor.”
Ironically, Waltz said that Smithfield’s other food processing plants have long been unionized, and that relations with workers in those plants are much more peaceful, as is now the case with the Tar Heel plant.
Pre-sale of “Hog Wild: The Battle for Workers’ Rights at the World’s Largest Slaughterhouse” has begun in the University of Iowa Press' catalog.