A report from the Center for Immigration Studies shows wages increased, as did the number of legal workers, at six Swift meatpacking plants following immigration raids in 2006. The Grand Island plant was among plants in six states raided in December of that year. Report author Jerry Kammer says Swift had to increase the wages and pay bonuses to new workers to get back to full production after the raids.
Kammer says it was a supply and demand issue as they needed to find workers quickly and had to make the job more attractive. He says all the plants returned to full production within five months — an indication that the plants could operate at full capacity without the presence of illegal workers. Kammer says the report goes against the myth that illegal immigrants are needed as Americans don’t want to do these types of jobs.
“I think that’s one of the major points here, that Americans will do these jobs if the jobs are made decent. If they pay decent and the working conditions are improved, more Americans will do these jobs,” Kammer says. Kammer says Swift has taken the strategy of spending money on replacing workers instead of increasing the wages of the workers they have. He says the average wage in today’s dollars was 21-dollars-and-75-cents in inflation adjusted dollars in 2007 the average wage was 12-dollars and three cents, so there has been a huge drop in the standard of living.
Kammer says the turnover at Swift plants continues to be 40 to 70-percent. He says that’s a very high turnover that means a lot of “turmoil and churn” in the communities, making it very difficult for the schools, churches, hospitals and neighborhoods to incorporate the people into the community. “You often hear the phrase in these meatpacking plant towns, ‘the plants don’t kill animals, they kill people’ because they make life so difficult, the working is so grueling, the conditions are so difficult,” Kammer says.
He says another myth the report addresses is that upping the money paid to workers in meatpacking plants would dramatically increase the cost of the product. Kammer says a California researcher found this not to be true in studying myth that lettuce would cost five dollars a head if workers were paid more. Kammer says the researcher found six percent of the cost for lettuce goes to the workers, while his report found in the meat industry, it was seven to nine percent, depending on whether it was beef or pork. So he says the wages could be increased “significantly” without a correspondingly large rise in the cost to the consumer.
Kammer says his view of the report goes back to what former congresswoman Barbara Jordon said about immigration. He says Jordan believes an immigration policy that is coherent and healthy for the country needs clear rules, and those that don’t meet the rules will have to stay out of the country. And those who break the rules should be sent out of the country. Kammer says it’s difficult to have such a policy and enforce it, because “every immigrant is a human being, and every immigrant has a story.”
Kammer was a Pulitzer prize winning reporter before joining the Center for Immigration Studies. You can view his entire report on-line at the C-I-S website at: http://cis.org/2006SwiftRaids.