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April 2017, Volume 23, Number 2

Meat and Migrants

President Trump's decision to reduce refugee admissions from 110,000 to 50,000 in FY17 may impact meatpackers. Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains of Greeley, Colorado says that about 40 percent of the refugees it resettled in 2016 got jobs at a Cargill plant in Fort Morgan or a JBS facility in Greeley. Many of the Burmese and Somali refugees already employed in these meatpacking plants were expecting relatives to join them in 2017, but the reduced refugee quota may delay arrivals.

Meatpackers switched from unauthorized workers to refugees after raids in December 2006 at six Swift plants resulted in the arrest of 20 percent of workers. An eighth of the Cargill employees in Fort Morgan are East Africans who arrived as refugees, where the starting wage is $14.90 an hour.

Within food manufacturing, a third of average employment is in animal slaughtering and processing (NAICS 3116), where average employment fell three percent over the past decade to 486,000. A third of NAICS 3116 workers are believed to be foreign-born, and they appear to be more willing to accept more dangerous jobs at going wages than US-born workers.

During the Obama Administration, DOL's Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a press release a day announcing fines on companies that violated worker-safety standards. Under Obama, OSHA inspected firms that violated worker-safety standards repeatedly, including poultry processors. There is a dispute over whether OSHA has only six months to bring charges of safety violations after workplace accidents.