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July 2002, Volume 8, Number 3

Meat and Poultry

Many towns in the Midwest and southeast have had their populations transformed by the hiring decisions of a large local employer. For example, in Lexington, Nebraska, IBP opened a meatpacking plant, and, the Hispanic population of Lexington increased tenfold in the 1990s, from 400 to 4,000, as the city's overall population grew from 6,600 to 10,000.


The same process has been repeated in many other cities. Georgetown, Delaware had 4,600 residents in 2000, according to the Census. One-third were Hispanic, and most Hispanics lived in rental housing- rental units account for half the occupied housing units. Rents are high for rural areas- $650 for a two-bedroom apartment and $1,200 a month for a three-bedroom house. Many Hispanics employed in the six poultry processing plants around Georgetown live six to 10 in each housing unit.


Perdue Farms is one of the largest poultry processors in the east and has a 1,300-employee poultry processing plant in Georgetown. Like other poultry processors, Perdue has begun to offer more services to immigrant workers; in 2000, Perdue began offering medical care to employees' families. However, Perdue has still run afoul of labor laws. The US Department of Labor announced in May 2002 that Perdue agreed to pay $10 million in back wages to 25,000 current and former workers for the time they spent putting on and taking off their protective gear, and to pay workers for such time in the future- an estimated $500 per worker a year.


Most poultry firms require workers to be dressed in protective gear when the production line starts running, and do not pay workers for time spent changing clothes or cleaning up at the end of the day. DOL argues that failing to pay workers for preparation and cleanup time is a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.


Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao said: "This is a major victory for the workers, who will now get paid what they are entitled to and be compensated for health and safety precautions at their plants." The Department of Labor sued Tyson Foods Inc to require it to pay workers for "donning and doffing" time, the time it takes them to remove and sanitize the protective gear and clothing required to do their jobs. Tyson countered that USDA inspectors in Tyson plants are not compensated by the federal government for "donning and doffing" time.


Some employers consult with city leaders and help their immigrant workers to integrate, while others do not. Greater Omaha Packing Company helped 150 of its 650 employees become US citizens between 1998 and 2002, with swearing-in ceremonies held in the company's 400-employee cafeteria.


Doctors. According to Staff Care, a temporary medical placement service, about 25,000 doctors, or close to five percent of those in practice, are employed in short-term assignments, often in rural and agricultural areas. Many migrant doctors prefer short-term assignments because they are freed from managed care's controls.


After September 11, the federal government stopped allowing foreign-trained doctors on J-1 visas from staying in the US rather than returning home, as their visas required, if they served for three years in medically underserved US communities. After three years of such service, they could apply for immigrant status.


Steven Greenhouse, "Poultry Plants to Pay Workers $10 Million in Compensation," New York Times, May 10, 2002. Peter T. Kilborn, "Roving Doctors Paying House Calls to Towns," New York Times, April 16, 2002.


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