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October 2018, Volume 24, Number 4

Meat and Migrants

Chicken processor Case Farms reportedly needs 3,200 workers to staff its four plants and support operations. Case says that two-thirds of its hourly workers stay with the firm for years, but the remaining third has very high turnover, so that two workers were hired for each year-round job slot in 2017, slightly above the 80 percent turnover rate for poultry processing. The meat processing turnover rate is lower at 35 percent.

Case cites many reasons for its inability to retain dis-assembly line workers, from fewer refugee admissions to more workers who receive SNAP (Food Stamps) and other benefits and fear that higher earnings may reduce their benefits. Case says that up to 20 percent of applicants fail drug tests.

Case and other meat processors are seeking new workers in Puerto Rico, where unemployment remains high as a result of Hurricane Maria in September 2017. Case is also improving the training of workers and supervisors and giving more frequent pay raises and bonuses to workers who do not miss work.

There are 35 feed lots with cattle around Amarillo, Texas, including employee-owned Cactus Feeders, the world's largest privately owned cattle feeder with a million cows and 500 employees. Cattle feeding competes with oil fields for workers, putting upward pressure on wages.

An affiliate of the National Association of Manufacturers reported that a third of US manufacturers rejected some new orders for lack of labor in summer 2018, and that labor shortages were most severe in rural areas. In response, firms are raising wages and persuading governments to offer tax incentives to entice workers to move to areas with unfilled jobs.

More manufacturers are imitating meat processors, who have long offered current employees bonuses for each new worker they bring into the plant who stays a minimum period, from 60 days to six months. Current workers understand the requirements of the job, refer only friends and relatives who can do the work, and often take responsibility for helping to train the new hires they referred.

The US is expected to produce a record 103 billion pounds of beef, pork, chicken, and turkey in 2018, reflecting lower feed costs and demand that was expanding abroad until China and Mexico imposed tariffs on US meat.

Many state and local governments support efforts to train jobless workers to fill unfilled jobs. Such retraining is difficult for several reasons, including that many jobless workers have personal issues and many training institutions do not train for currently available jobs.

ICE. In August 2018, ICE agents arrested 133 people at seven farm-related businesses in Nebraska, two restaurants and a grocery store, and a Minnesota-based farm operation. A tomato greenhouse lost two-thirds of its employees.

Juan Pablo Sanchez Delgado, owner an O'Neill, Nebraska grocery store and operator of a Mexican restaurant called La Herradura, was accused of providing unauthorized workers to the employers at the sites where workers were arrested. Delgado required the workers he recruited to cash their checks at his store for a fee.

The National Labor Relations Board in August 2018 found that Illinois meat packer Ruprecht Company violated the NLRA by enrolling in E-Verify without offering to bargain over the decision with UNITE-HERE Local 1, which represented its workers. The NLRB ordered Ruprecht to rescind its participation in E-Verify if the union requests. Instead, Ruprecht and UNITE-HERE reached a new collective bargaining agreement that included enrollment in E-Verify.

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was asked in September 2018 about his dissent in a 2008 case involving Iowa's Agri Processors, where the majority held that unauthorized workers were employees under the NLRA. Kavanaugh's dissent argued that the unauthorized workers were not employees entitled to NLRA protections because the US Supreme Court's Sure Tan decision making unauthorized workers employees under the NLRA was changed by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which made it a federal crime for employers to knowingly hire unauthorized workers.

Kavanaugh also dissented in a case involving DOL's refusal to issue an L-1 visa to a Brazilian churrascaria cook. The majority overturned DOL's refusal; Kavanaugh supported DOL, writing that the restaurant "wanted to employ Brazilian chefs rather than American chefs to ?cut labor costs masquerading as specialized knowledge."

Smithfield Foods for the third time in August 2017 was ordered to pay neighbors for the odor and noise created by hog farming. A federal jury in Raleigh ordered Smithfield to pay $470 million, which will be reduced to $94 million because of state caps on damage payments. Previous awards to neighbors of North Carolina hog farms were reduced to $3.25 million and $630,000.