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October 2016, Volume 22, Number 4

Meat and Migrants

JBS bought Swift Foods in 2007, after immigration raids in December 2006 at six Swift plants removed 1,282 unauthorized workers from the 7,000 employed on the first shift at the plants. Swift raised wages and hired replacement workers, but wound up selling to Brazil-based JBS, the world's largest beef packer.

The largest JBS-Swift plant in Greeley, Colorado can process 5,600 cattle a day with 3,000 employees. Some of those hired to replace unauthorized Mexicans at JBS and other meatpackers were refugees.

Some 150 Somali refugees quit or were fired from a Cargill Meat Solutions plant in Fort Morgan, Colorado in December 2015 after they were no longer allowed to take prayer breaks during their work shifts. Some 114 applied for unemployment benefits, which the state granted and Cargill opposed, but after appeals of individual cases gave workers UI benefits based on "a substantial change in the worker's working conditions," Cargill withdrew its opposition to UI benefits in August 2016.

The workers also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging unlawful religious, national origin and race discrimination. Teamsters Local 455, which represents 1,800 Fort Morgan workers, was criticized by Somalis during the prayer break dispute for favoring Hispanic members. The NLRB in May 2016 issued a complaint against Teamsters Local 455 for violating the NLRA by not processing the grievances filed by the Muslim workers.

Hispanic employees of Koch Foods of Mississippi LLC sued in 2011 with the help of the EEOC, alleging that they were subject to sexual-, racial- and national origin-based harassment. In September 2016, a federal appeals court ruled that Koch can learn whether the employees who sued have applied for or been granted U-visas for their cooperation with the EEOC. Koch says that the unauthorized employees falsified or enhanced their allegations to get U-visas.

Four of the five largest poultry producers, Tyson, Pilgrim's Pride, Perdue and Foster Farms, have begun to reduce the use of antibiotics in broiler chickens. Sanderson Farms, the third largest, has not, saying that antibiotics reduce mortality among chickens. Some public health officials believe that regularly giving antibiotics to animals makes the antibiotics given to humans less effective; an estimated 20 percent of Americans buy only antibiotic-free meat.

Timothy Pachirat in 2004 worked for five months in a beef packing plant in Nebraska that slaughtered a cow every 12 seconds. The book, Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight, aims to make the invisible visible, describing the compartmentalization of work in the plant.

Pachirat, Timothy. 2012. Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight. Yale.

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