One of the state's largest private-sector labor unions representing workers in grocery, health care and food processing has strengthened its reach into the meatpacking industry in a merger deal approved Thursday by two units of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).

Austin, Minn.-based UFCW Local 9, which represents about 4,000 workers in southeastern Minnesota mostly at Hormel Foods Co. and Quality Pork Processors Inc., will join with the larger Twin Cities-based Local 663.

The combined union will go under the UFCW Local 663 banner, and represent more than 17,000 workers in Minnesota and Iowa, including those at Cub, Lunds & Byerlys and the Seward co-op.

UFCW Local 9 President Richard Morgan will become director of packing for southeast Minnesota.

Local 663, with offices in Brooklyn Center and Worthington, already was one of the largest UFCW affiliates in the nation and is looking to add more members, said Matthew Utecht, Local 663 president.

"The whole concept of a labor union is bringing workers together so they have a larger collective voice, and 13,200 is a significant voice," Utecht said. "But you add in another 4,000 and that voice just becomes that much louder and we become that much stronger as a group of workers."

The two chapters worked together on the Minnesota Safe Workplaces for Meat and Poultry Processing Workers Act, which passed in the Minnesota House of Representatives this year.

"We're stronger together," UFCW Local 9 member Claudia Ambriz, who works at Quality Pork Products, said in a statement. "We've been working together already to improve meatpacking safety at the Legislature so this merger is another step in the right direction for workers."

UFCW 663 was formed in 2018 through the merger of UFCW Local 653 and Local 1161. In 2013, when Utecht was elected president of Local 653, that local union had 9,200 members, he said.

Utecht said he anticipates more growth of Local 663 through organizing and mergers.

The local said it is working with retail workers at Half Price Books in the Twin Cities to organize what it said will be the first unionized bookstore in the country.