August 22, 2013


On the Killing Floor, Clues to the Impact Of Immigration on Jobs (SARA MURRAY, 8/22/13, WSJ)

Here on the outskirts of town sits a sprawling meatpacking plant where more than 3,000 workers slaughter and process thousands of cows a week--and where English is hardly the only language spoken inside. Indeed, the union handbook is printed in English, Spanish, Burmese and Somali.

The plant was one of a half dozen facilities owned by Swift & Co. that federal agents raided seven years ago in search of workers living in the country illegally. Some 260 people were detained here, forcing the plant's new owner to find American replacements after some were deported. When 1,300 new jobs were added, the task grew harder, and the plant took on its international flavor, hiring Somalis and Burmese refugees. [...]

On a recent day at the plant, a worker on the kill floor deftly hooked a cattle's hide, just above the shoulder, into a machine called the hide puller. A bar swooped down, yanking the hide over the cow's head and leaving behind a naked carcass. The machine can do that 365 times in an hour. The work used to be done by hand; workers used knives to peel the hide from the skull.

Employees work eight hour shifts, standing, with a 15-minute morning break and a 30-minute break for lunch. It is tiring and riskier than average work. For every 100 workers, 6.4 were injured or fell ill on the job in 2011 nationwide. For all occupations, public and private, there were just 3.8 incidents per 100 workers.

Since the meatpacking plant was built in Greeley in the 1950s, the northeastern Colorado city has lured immigrants. The population blossomed to more than 90,000 in 2010, 36% of whom were Hispanic, most of them from Mexico. Twenty years earlier, the town had 60,500 residents, 20% of them Hispanic.

Now the area has about 2,000 refugees, too--the "new Mexicans," as some in the meatpacking business called them. Asad Abdi, a refugee who got his start at the meatpacking plant in Greeley, opened a Global Refugee Center in 2008 to help immigrants learn English, find housing and jobs and apply for government benefits.

The changes haven't always unfolded smoothly, breeding tension among native-born Americans, Latinos and refugees here.

"We're a pretty conservative community, and I would say we don't want illegals," says Greeley Mayor Tom Norton, where unemployment stood at 8.4% in June. "But we do want a labor force." There's the rub, he says. There are some longtime residents who still want to work in meatpacking plants, but not very many.

White people want jobs, not work.

Posted by at August 22, 2013 10:01 AM

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