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October 2012, Volume 18, Number 4

Meat, Dalton, Siler City

An average 486,000 workers were employed in 4,000 animal slaughtering and processing (NAICS 3116) establishments in 2011, down from 503,000 in 4,100 plants in 2006. Average weekly wages rose from $571 to $633 a week, 11 percent, over this five-year period. Between 2000 and 2005, average weekly wages in NAICS 3116 rose from $483 to $556 or 15 percent.

Most meat and poultry processors have high worker turnover, and most have help-wanted signs out at all times. Many plants offer referral bonuses of $300 to $500 to anyone who refers a worker who is hired and stays on the job for 60 to 90 days. Newly hired workers typically complete paperwork, receive safety training and go to work on the so-called dis-assembly line.

Workers typically wear protective clothing. Over the past decade, there have been numerous lawsuits over the time that production workers spend donning and doffing protective gear, which is often not compensated. Butterball in July 2012 agreed to pay $4.25 million to settle suits claiming that it violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by not paying for donning and doffing time; Butterball also agreed to pay production workers for an extra three minutes a day. Over half of the Butterball settlement monies will go to the lawyers who brought the suit.

RICO. The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act of 1970 has been used to sue employers who knowingly hired at least 10 unauthorized workers during a 12-month period whom the employer knew were brought into the US illegally for unauthorized employment. The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in July 2012 dismissed a RICO suit filed by five legal Perdue Farms' workers alleging that Perdue conspired to hire unauthorized workers in order to depress their wages.

The workers' RICO suit, filed in March 2010 in Alabama and later transferred to Maryland, was dismissed by a federal judge, prompting the workers to appeal. The Court of Appeals said that the workers failed to show that Perdue hired at least 10 unauthorized workers within one year and show that Perdue knew these workers were unauthorized.

Dalton. The Georgia city known as the carpet capital of the world hired thousands of migrants during the housing boom, when Dalton's unemployment rate dipped below four percent. Today, Dalton's unemployment rate is 12 percent, and many of the factories that once hired migrants have automated. Local development experts tout Dalton's "nonunion, hard-working manufacturing community" to potential investors.

Hispanics are the largest share of students at Dalton High School. Shaw Industries, the world's largest carpet manufacturer, is working with local schools to emphasize that future employees must have math and other skills.

Siler City. North Carolina began to attract migrants to work in its poultry and meat processing plants in the mid-1990s, and 8,000-resident Siler City was half Hispanic in 2010. Several Siler City poultry processing plants closed, but most of those who migrated to work in the plants stayed; Siler City has $14 million in debt for a reservoir built to ensure fresh water for the poultry plants that closed.

As Hispanics settle in Siler City, their children are mostly US born and English speaking. However, only 75 percent of the pupils at the local high school graduate despite sports teams and clubs aimed at keeping students in school. Siler City high school has become a soccer powerhouse.

Luke DeCock, "Siler City's economy erodes, but its newest residents choose to stay," Charlotte Observer, September 30, 2012.