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Rural America Helps Big Meat Exploit Immigrant Labor

I like hot dogs, but you can’t pay me or most Americans enough to go work at Smithfield Foods to make them.

Thus, Big Meat relies on immigrant workers kept vulnerable and isolated in rural areas:

Immigrants make up nearly 40% of the industry’s roughly 470,000 workers, with higher concentrations in states like South Dakota, where they are 58% of workers, and Nebraska, where they’re 66%, according to the nonprofit Migration Policy Institute. Estimates on illegal immigrants vary from 14% to the majority at some plants.

…most jobs are rural, limiting workers’ access to lawyers, favorable union laws and other jobs. Hourly pay averages as low as $12.50 for backbreaking work, often conducted side-by-side. Workers in the country illegally fear deportation for speaking up.

“Vulnerable populations work well for them,” Joshua Specht, a University of Notre Dame professor, said of the industry [Stephen Groves and Sophia Tareen, “Worker Shortage Concerns Loom in Immigrant-Heavy Meatpacking,” AP, 2020.05.26].

I’d suggest we all go on a diet strike against exploitative meatpackers and eat more salad… but our veggies come from similarly exploited immigrant labor forces who pick the greens most Americans aren’t willing to pay full price for in cash or sweat.

They make machines that let us make pop at home. I wonder when Impossible Foods will start selling home protein makers that will let us churn out our own fake burgers and wieners?


  1. mike from iowa 2020-05-26 12:10

    Buttercrunch is an excellent choice of lettuce for either leaf or head lettuce. I can grow it as long as I can keep raggits and deer out of it. Deer like it after it bolts,m even.

    Very little work involved and no pesticides or herbicides are needed. It doesn’t get real solid heads like Iceburg lettuce and you have to strip off each leaf and wash inside and out as it is so curly bugs and dirt get into the folds. It is yummy when chilled. No, not the bugs and dirt.

  2. Eve Fisher 2020-05-26 13:03

    So far, I haven’t heard of any of the people hanging governors in effigy with the demand “We need to work!” signing up for jobs at the meat-packing plants. Despite, I’m sure, a hefty meat diet.

  3. Donald Pay 2020-05-26 13:35

    We had people in Wisconsin demanding the state open up. Republicans actually filed suit to invalidate the Governor Evers’ “safer-at-home” order. Republicans won their suit in a lawless state Supreme Court, but Republicans have no plan to put in place, other than to die early and quickly.

    Now we have a lot of places opening, although some counties, including mine, are mostly continuing the safer-at-home plan.

    The thing is the protestors and the Republican politicians don’t care about working. Largely this is all about their being able to play. The folks you see protesting are suburban. They have good jobs that allow them to work just fine from home. This weekend these fine folks went to their favorite spots, Lake Generva or The Dells or Up North, not to work, but to play. The people who actually work are immigrants, the lower socioeconomic strata, minorities.

    The protests you saw were all about white privilege. You didn’t see many black or brown faces in that crowd of kooks. The protests were manufactured by people who take a good chunk of the summer off to play while they eat the food immigrant meat packers and minority cooks and wait staff are dying to provide for them, to sleep in rooms cleaned by immigrants who themselves sleep in COVID-infested dorms, to get their hair and nails done by lower middle class folks who they regard with so little care that they refuse to wear a mask to protect them from their white privilege. They could have stepped in to fill the jobs at packing plants that immigrants were doing, but they care about actually working. They care about themselves. That’s all.

  4. Dicta 2020-05-26 14:06

    If you made the mistake, like I did, of reading the comments on facebook after the first death of a Smithfield employee, you were treated to half the posters expressing sympathy and the other half blaming immigrants for Covid-19s spread in South Dakota.

    I’m not kidding when I say that the human species had a decent run, but perhaps our disappearance would be a net positive on a cosmological scale.

  5. Scott 2020-05-26 15:07

    I’m not a big union person, but in the packing industry unions are needed. With such a diverse and I’m guessing constantly changing workforce, unions are not going to be very strong. That is sad.

    These big packing plant employers know that and I’m dam sure like the fact that there workforce is diverse and constantly changing as that means an employee union will never be strong in their industry.

  6. bearcreekbat 2020-05-26 15:37

    The byline to this post indicates the quote is from the “AP.” I assume this means Associated Press. I find it disturbing and offensive that an AP writer (or editor) feels the necessity to apply a denigrating label to any immigrant, here with the phrase “Estimates on illegal immigrants.” Even if no harm is meant with this term “illegal immigrants” it has the effect of dehumanizing immigrants as a group, as it provides an un-necessary and somewhat gratuitous label that attaches to the term “immigrant.”

    I have seen no other use of the term “illegal” (except for Kurt Evans) ever publicly applied to a class of otherwise innocent individuals. We don’t called speeders, stop sign runners, dui’s, or any other individual convicted of, or accused of, a misdemeanor traffic violation an “illegal driver.” Indeed, we don’t even label felons who have killed someone in a dui an “illegal driver.” We don’t call thieves and robbers who happen to be of an Italian heritage “illegal Italians.”

    And as best I can tell, the term “illegal immigrant” is used to describe people that are only accused, but not convicted, of an immigration law misdemeanor as well as those not even accused of a crime, but only a violation of a civil rule. We don’t called people from South Dakota who have failed to pay a use tax, or report capital gains income from the sale of personal property “illegal South Dakotans.”

    Using such a label on immigrants demeans and dehumanizes them as a group. While I understand that this may well be the goal of the Trump administration and some Trump supporters, I always considered the AP as a relatively neutral source that did not spread such offensive and false propaganda.

    Surely our language is developed enough and our minds bright enough to find more appropriate language for this story. Instead of using the lazy and hurtful designation “illegal immigrant,” how about something like “people who fear being singled out and prosecuted or deported for alleged immigration offenses?” While this phrase is a bit more wordy, it doesn’t paint an overly broad negative picture of people who happen to be immigrants. Or if we demand a shorter term, then “undocumented workers,” does the trick without specifying immigrants as such a description can apply to non-immigrants as well, such as practicing a trade without the necessary license.

  7. Debbo 2020-05-26 18:47

    I don’t have the link any longer, but a university did a study of the posts and comments on FB that favored no restrictions on anyone or anything. 60% were from Russian bots. Sixty percent.

    Don’s comment is a superlative summation of what’s happening in the meat industry and white privilege.

    Recent examples of white privilege run amok include the Black man screamed at by a white woman who didn’t have her dog on a leash. He called her on it while recording the incident on his phone. She called the cops on the Black man. He had been bird watching.

    Today the Minneapolis cops murdered a Black man who “fit the description” of a recent criminal actor. One of the cops knelt on his neck while the man was cuffed and lying prone, pleading that he couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t. He suffocated. The involved cops have been fired. They need to be indicted, tried and imprisoned for murder.

  8. Clyde 2020-05-26 22:34

    I’ve been around and around with some on here about this issue. Of course I’m a bigot racist but at least is looks like I now have company.
    And the writer didn’t even get into the folks that are doing most of the labor at the CAFO livestock growing “farms”. The ones that know when ICE is coming and trade their workers with other “farms” for ones with the right shade of “green” card.

  9. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-05-27 05:37

    Good point, Eve—they’re the same idiots who packed Aberdeen’s lecture halls in past years to hear conspriacy theorists like Ron Branstner moan that immigrants were taking our jobs while none of them would give up their pension checks to go put in hours at Demkota Beef or Molded Fiber Glass.

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2020-05-27 05:40

    Unions are needed to protect the interests of all workers. The meat corporations consolidate their operations into a few giant corporations; perhaps workers as well need to consolidate into a few large self-defense leagues. Or maybe workers just need to wise up and vote for Democrats who will defend the minimum wage, move health care from employer-based to single-payer, guarantee family leave, protect worker pensions, and defend labor in myriad other ways.

  11. Eve Fisher 2020-05-27 08:16

    It is indeed the administration of “magical thinking” –
    that you can bully countries (especially China) into doing your will;
    that bullying allies (who are sovereign nations) and calling them names will make them heap praise and money upon us and agree to anything we ask;
    that masks make you sick (gee, wonder why doctors and nurses aren’t perpetually in ICU?);
    that if we all get out and gather in public as one, COVID-19 will run away in the face of our courage and determination;
    that if that doesn’t work, use weapons against the virus;
    that there are sufficient minorities to do all the jobs I don’t want to do, but if not, sneak some more and just don’t tell me about it;
    that if meat-packing workers are getting sick all around the country it’s because of their horrendous lifestyles because they’re all alike, and certainly not because all the meat-packing plants use the same factory-slaughtering/packaging process;
    that it’s infinitely more important to blame China for everything than to actually do anything to stop the spread of the virus;
    that COVID-19 is both a fraud and a hoax and the common flu, even though Fox News hosts are working from home, Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort are being sent home for fear of catching it in prison, and everyone in the White House (and I’ll bet in Pierre) are being tested for it daily;
    that the poor have gotten enough money in this time of pandemic, so let’s turn off the spigot and besides, there are all those meat-packing jobs waiting for them (despite the fact that most of them are in rural areas, and so the urban poor are SOL, because no one’s going to pay their moving expenses)…

    BTW – how long does Himself get to make up, launch, and weaponize gross attacks of murder and other felonies against people he doesn’t like? I realize the GOP leadership is terrified of him, for fear that he’ll do it to them. But where, O where, is today’s Ralph Flanders, and today’s Watkins Committee?

    Okay, sorry for all the digressions but that’s the rant of the day.

  12. Debbo 2020-05-27 14:42

    Eve, Twitter has been pushed into including notice with Liar-in-chief’s tweets that they are lies. Of course that’s not quite how they’re doing it, but they’re doing it. Of course Liar-in-Chief is losing what’s left of his mind over that.

  13. Eve Fisher 2020-05-27 14:46

    Debbo, anything that makes Himself sweat bullets in the middle of the day, much less all night long, is fine with me.

  14. Debbo 2020-05-27 17:01

    The Bumbling Blabbermouth is actually doing something good for ranchers and farmers, though he probably isn’t aware of it. Don’t tell him! He’ll probably stop it, especially if it was initiated by President Obama.

    From Numlock News by Walt Hickey:

    The Thin Wormy Line

    For a cost of $15 million per year to the United States government, once a week several planes drop 14.7 million sterilized screwworms over the Panama-Colombia border, in what’s generally agreed to be one of the most successful parasitic containment and eradication programs in the world. In the late 1950s, the USDA began to eliminate screwworms — vicious flesh-eating larvae that devour cattle and other living things by entering their bodies through wounds — from the U.S. by introducing sterilized male screwworms en masse. Realizing the U.S.-Mexico border was an onerous 2,000 mile range to police, a deal was struck to carry the front lines of screwworm defense south through Mexico to a more feasibly treatable area. And since then, screwworms have been driven to the Isthmus of Panama, a continental line of defense held by weekly dumps of sterile bugs from planes. The bugs are grown and sterilized to the tune of 20 million a week in labs in Panama. For that $15 million federal investment, American farmers save an adjusted $1.3 billion in losses.

    Sarah Zhang, The Atlantic

  15. mike from iowa 2020-05-27 17:58

    Wingnuts had the perfect opportunity to dispose of drumpf and refused to do their constitutional duty. Now he is even worse an d wingnuts still refuse to stop him. Why is that? The worst criticism I have found is some people say what drumpf says and does is not helpful. D’ya think?

    Imagine Obama falsely accusing a congressman of murder. How soon would it have been before wingnuts had impeachment charges drawn up?

  16. Clyde 2020-05-27 23:23

    As in so many of this nations problems the meat industry has been allowed to monopolize. When we had plenty of small packers not relying on immigrant labor and paying their employees a decent wage we would not have the mess we now have. In my fathers day farmers did all their butchering at home. No refrigeration so if you wanted fresh beef you didn’t slaughter one till it got cold in the fall. Hogs were a staple most of the year and curing of pork was carried out at home as well.

    Several folks in my area have gotten free hogs recently that were going to be euthanized and are back to home processing once again. Too bad this country has gotten so far from the independent lifestyle people once lived. Even while they rail about having to be so free!

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