Large swaths of the refugee/immigrant labor force that came to America (or who were brought here by the federal government) to provide a ready supply of cheap labor for giant global corporations are still sick or are afraid to return to work in the meatpacking industry.
The Chinese virus has exposed a great vulnerability not just for the companies, but for the future of the country. Any intelligent company will now begin to see the need to move faster toward automation and then what happens to the literally millions of immigrant workers with no skills and no English to learn new skills.
Reuters this week canvassed some of the BIG MEAT companies and reports that meat production is still not returning to its former capacity. Workers are sick or scared to return to work.
Notice how they even have to put Trump into this story headline, as if Trump’s order had anything to do with the continued problems of an industry that was not forward thinking.
Meatpacking workers often absent after Trump order to reopen
[Chinese owned] Smithfield Foods Inc [SFII.UL] is missing about a third of its employees at a South Dakota pork plant because they are quarantined or afraid to return to work after a severe coronavirus outbreak, according to the workers’ union.
Tyson Foods Inc (TSN.N) was forced to briefly close its Storm Lake, Iowa plant – a month after U.S. President Donald Trump’s April 28 order telling meatpackers to stay open – as worker absences hobbled its slaughter operations.
Nationwide, 30% to 50% of meatpacking employees were absent last week, said Mark Lauritsen, a vice president at the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW).
Infections have risen steadily in rural counties that are home to large meatpacking plants since Trump ordered them to stay open. At least 15 meatpacking counties now report a higher infection rate, on a per capita basis, than New York City, the virus’s epicenter – though that is likely a reflection of the extensive testing of workers and local residents along with elevated infection rates.
More than a dozen meatpacking workers, union leaders and advocates told Reuters that many employees still fear getting sick after losing confidence in management during coronavirus outbreaks in April and May. Absenteeism varies by plant, and exact data is not available, but some workers’ unwillingness to return poses a challenge to an industry still struggling to restore normal meat output.
Not just meatpacking!
In a report about refugees working in food processing in Abilene, Texas we see the same story.
If you have been wondering why Texas is still the number one destination of new refugees being admitted to the US (even as politicians there SAY they want it stopped), it is because of companies like this one that employs large numbers of immigrant/refugee laborers while changing the social and cultural makeup of American cities.
The article at Food & Environment Reporting Network begins with the usual refugee sob story. They must teach that in Journalism 101—soften up readers to the plight of the poor____ (fill in the blank)!
The story is long. It explains in detail the problems with a work force that is uneducated and living in close proximity to each other.
The pandemic is just the latest threat faced by refugee food workers in Texas
Lawi’s dilemma is one that many workers around the world are facing. But former refugees like Lawi can be particularly vulnerable in this pandemic.
Many former refugees are from rural parts of their home countries and had limited access to education. They might not read or write in their home languages, which makes it even harder to try to learn to read and write in English; they might only speak their own dialects, and their work experience is often constrained by the opportunities in overcrowded refugee camps where the average wait time to leave is close to 30 years.
A lack of education, work experience, and English language skills have made it especially hard for many former refugees to understand the scope of the pandemic and follow advice on social distancing.
Building ethnic enclaves is part of the problem….
Even without a pandemic, resettlement can present what feel like insurmountable obstacles. But agencies work to keep families and people of similar diaspora together because of their shared language and past, so they can quickly feel like extended family. Still, the fact that the community is often together—living in apartments near each other, spending time in each other’s homes outside of work—can be deadly in a pandemic.
Former refugees make up about 20 percent of the workforce at the AbiMar Foods plant. Because of that high number, the company’s outbreak was also a refugee-community issue. The close-knit nature of the community meant that those early days were especially crucial to stop the spread.
You can read it all yourself.
Bottomline, any smart company will be moving to mechanization and America will be left dealing with hundreds of thousands of refugees admitted in recent years who have no skills and little opportunity to gain any.