There is something weirdly fitting about a labor official named Slaughter who represents slaughterhouse workers. But whether fate or coincidence, it is no longer. On February 25, Terry Slaughter, former secretary-treasurer of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1208, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina to embezzling $62,315.38 from the union, which represents employees of the sprawling Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in Tar Heel, N.C., about an hour and a half’s drive south of Raleigh. Slaughter had been charged in early January following an investigation by the U.S. Labor Department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards. Evidence indicates that a far larger sum of missing funds is attributable to a former president.
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1208 was born of trauma, in this case one of the most bitter labor disputes in recent U.S. history. The union in the early-90s launched a corporate campaign against Smithfield Foods’ Tar Heel hog/pork processing plant, the centerpiece activity of which was organizing thousands of nonunion workers. Many of the organizers’ public accusations against Smithfield appeared to be inflammatory, indeed, so much so that in October 2007 the company filed a federal civil racketeering suit against the union. The union, for its part, countered that the company had engaged in a variety of unfair labor practices, including rigging a pair of representation elections in the 90s. In October 2008, Smithfield and the union announced an out-of-court settlement in which the UFCW would hold a National Labor Relations Board-supervised representation election, but would call off its corporate campaign. That December, in a close vote, workers opted for representation and soon won a union charter. Thus Local 1208 was born.
Workers still at the Tar Heel plant might be having some second thoughts about who they elected to run the union, which now has about 3,600 members at locations in North Carolina and South Carolina. Specifically, that means Keith Ludlum and Terry Slaughter. Ludlum, who led the movement for unionization, was a logical choice for founding president. Except he’s not president anymore. And Slaughter isn’t secretary-treasurer anymore. On March 31, 2015, UFCW International President Marc Perrone circulated a letter to members of Local 1208 indicating that an audit had concluded the pair had engaged in extensive corruption. The letter read: “An audit and review of the Local Union’s finances, governance and operations revealed that the Local Union’s two top officers [Ludlum and Slaughter] have engaged in financial malpractice, including mishandling Local Union funds, violating Local 1208 bylaws, the International Constitution, and federal laws relating to union expenditures and the reporting of these expenditures, and attempting to obstruct investigations into these matters.”
After the audit, UFCW headquarters in Washington, D.C. placed Local 1208 under a trusteeship, removing Ludlum, Slaughter and other top officers from their posts. Following the takeover, the international union also held a hearing to determine the scope of thefts. According to witnesses, Ludlum and Slaughter used $5,000 in union funds to pay for a trip to a Dominican resort for themselves and other officers/members that had nothing to do with union business; spent more than $20,000 in union funds on RVs, hunting supplies and furniture for personal use; and (in Ludlum’s case) wrote several union checks totaling more than $14,000 to the mother of his then-girlfriend for nonexistent “research and consulting.” Other alleged unauthorized expenses included: a trip to SeaWorld by Ludlum and his girlfriend; a rental car for Ludlum’s son or stepson; a TV and soundbar; and union credit card payments incurred for personal expenses. During January 2012-March 2015, the report concluded, Ludlum and Slaughter had embezzled a respective $216,344 and $62,509. That’s a grand total of almost $280,000. In addition, Slaughter on occasion had concealed the thefts by destroying minutes of union meetings.
This evidence became the basis for a Labor Department investigation and a Justice Department prosecution. Terry Slaughter, now 48, was charged this January 8, and pleaded guilty on February 25. Under the agreement, he will pay restitution. Keith Ludlum hasn’t been charged yet, but that’s because of an unresolved defamation suit that he filed in federal court last April against the international union. Ludlum claims that the United Food and Commercial Workers’ audit and trusteeship are based on political disagreements rather than facts. He initially stated that the UFCW “did fraudulently and with malice” force the trusteeship upon the local. He later amended his complaint by alleging that UFCW leaders conspired to have him arrested on domestic violence charges just days before imposing the trusteeship as a means of pressuring him into resigning. His suit seeks nearly $500,000 in damages primarily in the form of lost wages and benefits following his removal as president.
Even if this suit works out in Ludlum’s favor, things don’t look promising for him. Terry Slaughter already has pleaded guilty, and is facing up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. He has every incentive to cooperate with the prosecution. And the prosecution seems certain that both men pilfered union funds. Robert Higdon Jr., U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, announced following Slaughter’s guilty plea: “Terry Slaughter held a position of trust on behalf of thousands of members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union across North and South Carolina. This prosecution is part of the Department of Justice’s ongoing effort to ensure honesty and integrity for the members of our union community.” He eventually might be issuing a similar statement about Keith Ludlum.