The Meatpacking industry – first illegal immigration then refugee resettlement displace American workers
Historically, most meatpacking plants were located in urban areas, and in the early 1900’s, blacks migrating north were hired as “cheap labor” and aggressively recruited to break strikes. As demand for meat increased, so did black employment; between 1915-1918, over 6,500 blacks worked in the Chicago meat plants. Between 1909-1928, blacks working in the Chicago meatpacking industry increased from 3 to 29%, gaining “a foothold in the industry.” The percentage of black workers in meatpacking increased again between 1940-1950.
Meatpacking workers outside southern states were represented mostly by two major and competing unions. One of them, the Packinghouse Workers of America successfully unified the black and white workers as bargaining units and by 1940 also had collective bargaining agreements with the four largest meatpackers in the country. By 1960, the meatpacking industry offered wages approximately 15 percent higher than the average manufacturing wage.
In the 1980s the industry underwent significant changes; meat production shifted from urban to rural areas, new technologies were introduced and demand for meat fell, causing many of the unionized urban plants to close. By 2002, wages in meatpacking had dropped to 24 percent less than the average manufacturing wage.
The Smithfield Plant Raid and black worker displacement
Between 1990 and 2000, North Carolina had the largest growth of any state (a 394% increase) in the size of its Hispanic population growing from 76,726 to 378,963. By 2000, Hispanic workers became the majority demographic at the Smithfield pork processing plant in Tar Heel, N.C., the largest hog processing facility in the world.
In the early 1990’s, however, most workers at Smithfield were Black Americans. It was during this time as well, that the United Food and Commercial Workers Union lost two organizing elections. During a subsequent lawsuit over the election results, evidence emerged that the company gradually replaced its workforce with illegal immigrants because “…they were more likely to accept low wages and poor conditions and they were vulnerable to…the company’s ‘intense and widespread coercion’ [efforts to defeat union organizing.]”
In January 2007, ICE agents raided the Smithfield plant, resulting in dozens of illegal Hispanic workers being arrested and a few hundred leaving voluntarily to avoid arrest. Vacancies were filled by black workers.
Meatpacking and refugee resettlement
Reports about the meatpacking industry routinely note that it is one of the most dangerous manufacturing jobs in the U.S. But for workers who have little to no education, low job skills and little to no ability to speak English, it offers a decent wage.
Moving the meatpacking industry to rural areas reduced competition for workers and enabled companies to lower wages. In order to avoid the problem of using illegal immigrant workers, meatpacking plants could instead, use refugee workers who unlike American workers, are less likely to challenge wages and working conditions at this time.
The Tyson’s company not only actively recruits refugee workers but will bring them in from other states to work at their plants. They go to great lengths to assist with housing and other adjustment needs.
“At a recent conference at the University of Iowa, Rick Rustad, a workplace chaplain at the Tyson plant in Waterloo, about 100 miles away, recalled serving as the plant’s “mobile recruit” for Burmese refugees. He drove a passenger bus to meet with Burmese who had settled in different parts of Illinois, where he offered jobs and brought 30 back to Iowa at a time.”
The Tyson’s plant in Shelbyville, Tennessee saw hiring refugees as the way to avoid hiring illegal immigrant labor. This plant also moved Somali refugee workers from Kansas to Tennessee rather than hire unemployed Tennesseans. The Nashville International Center for Empowerment, a federal refugee resettlement contractor created an employment pipeline between their agency and Tyson’s by having the Tyson’s Human Relations manager serve on its board.
In 2009, the Wall Street Journal reported that the recession was creating greater competition for jobs between native-born locals and refugees at the Shelbyville Tyson’s plant. “Well before the [Shelbyville employment] agency opened that morning, officials from churches and refugee resettlement agencies had transported several vanloads of Asian and African applicants from Nashville.”
Just like the Refugee Resettlement Act of 1980 has facilitated the flow of cheap legal, work-authorized labor for meatpacking plants, so did the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act which provided a blanket amnesty for approximately 2.7 million illegal immigrants.
A 2011 paper “US Construction and Meatpacking” presented at a UC Berkley sponsored conference “Migration and Competitiveness: Japan and the United States” confirmed the impact of both the refugee act and amnesty on the meatpacking industry. It was noted that poultry plant managers in the late 1980’s said Asians and Hispanics had a “‘better work ethic’” than local Blacks and Whites and network hiring among Asians or Hispanics displaced local workers.
The opening lines in a in the Wall Street Journal about the Swift & Co. meatpacking plant in Greeley, Colorado confirms the changes in the industry – “Here on the outskirts of town sits a sprawling meatpacking plant…where English is hardly the only language spoken inside. Indeed, the union handbook is printed in English, Spanish, Burmese and Somali.”
A 2010 Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) compilation titled “Immigration and Job Displacement” notes that Hispanic migrant workers displaced black workers in the Georgia peach industry, and, in 1977, 2,500 unionized black janitors in Los Angeles earning $12/hour with benefits, were displaced by a group of nonunion contractors using Hispanic labor at $4/hour; eight years later only 600 black workers remained.
In his book The American Dream: Can It Survive the 21st Century, Joseph Daleidan notes other industries using unskilled or low-skill workers including garment workers, hotel maids, nursing assistants, and orderlies that have further displaced low and unskilled black American workers.
Daleidan also points out that immigrant-owned businesses are less likely to employ black Americans and that these businesses discriminate against blacks with impunity because state and federal civil rights agencies “turn a blind eye to discrimination by minorities.”
Based on these facts, can there be any question that the globalists, the political elitists, the big business interests, the open border and amnesty advocates like TIRRC and NCLR are acting in their own political and economic interests? Based on facts, can there be any question about who in the U.S. will bear the brunt of policies that bypass our laws that were intended to protect American workers first?