A Day Without Immigrants

Some meat and poultry plants halted production the day of the nationwide boycott and protest march by legal and illegal settlers and their supporters. Meanwhile, Hispanic workers at some plants were channeled in other directions to show their support for immigration reform.
Virginia-based Smithfield Foods offered assistance to employees in a congressional letter-writing campaign, urging their senators and representatives to “pass just legislation that includes protections for legal immigrants and their employers, provides a path to citizenship for those willing to work, and does not separate family members.”
American Foods Group LLC, based in Green Bay, Wis., did not idle any of its plants on May 1. However, interested employees were urged to participate in the May Day event during non-working hours to keep their work records in good standing.
“As a business, we must remain focused on meeting the needs and requirement of our customers,” notes Carl Kuehne, co-chief executive officer. “We support comprehensive immigration reform that preserves the rights and dignity of our workers, while dealing with the immigration issues facing the United States. We are very proud and supportive of our diverse workforce. Our country needs to establish a method of reasonable access and control over the situation to avoid ending up with immigrants being exploited by unscrupulous employers and so that the social structure of our society is not adversely affected.”
Some companies merely adjusted production schedules, such as Pittsburg, Texas-based Pilgrim’s Pride. ConAgra Foods Inc., Omaha, Neb., reportedly honored time-off requests when possible without altering production schedules.
Firms shutting down select plants for the day included 12 red-meat facilities nationwide by Tyson Foods, based in Springdale, Ark., seven by Cargill Meat Solutions, Wichita, Kan. and six by Greeley, Colo.-based Swift & Company.
“In the plants we chose to run, absentee levels were in line with normal expectations for a Monday,” reports Sean McHugh, vice president investor relations, public relations and communications for Swift & Company. “Business disruption was minimal, and we had flexibility the balance of the week to run extra hours. We were always in close contact with workers. Their formal and informal feedback indicated a high level of interest in immigration issues.”
Mark Klein of Cargill says communication had been ongoing with Hispanic workers in the company’s plant to keep on top of their feelings about immigration reform.
“It was clear that a number of people wanted to observe May 1 by marching or else not going to work, which showed a lot of emotion and momentum behind this issue and disdain for H.R. 4437,” Klein says. “Rather than running on Monday without enough people, we shifted schedules, not only to shorten the work week but also to show our Hispanic employees that we share many of their concerns about H.R. 4437. We think the current immigration system is broken. It takes too long to gain legal status, and employers are not given enough tools to be totally comfortable with their ability to verify employee eligibility.”
AMI immigration reform proposal on behalf of its meat and poultry industry members.
• A voluntary, federally-certified, nationwide Employee Verification System.
• Compliance assistance and moderation of INS sanctions on employers who have made good-faith efforts to verify the legal status of employee.
• Expand the H-2B visa program beyond seasonal work or else create a new temporary visa program. Low- to mid-skilled, non-agricultural workers to be included and their U.S. stay permitted for up to six years.
• Allow temporary legal residents to apply for permanence on any basis without jeopardizing their resident status.
• A new, distinct employment-based immigrant visa category covering mid- to low-skill workers with a separate cap of permanent visas.
• A one-time program allowing undocumented and current U.S. workers to continue working with the chance of earning legal residence based on a commitment to continue in essential worker jobs for three years. Before earning legal status, applicants would be screened for security “watch” lists or any other illegal activities.
• Safeguards for immigrant workers to maintain the equivalent worker protections as U.S. citizens.