After the infamous Postville raids, the Iowa meatpacking company has attempted to keep production up by hiring the most marginalized populations: ex-offenders, Somali refugees, homeless people, and workers from Palau (and when not able to employ on their own using unscrupulous staffing companies to act as a proxy for worker mistreatment). But since the raids, the company has been unable to reach previous staffing levels.
The company has filed for bankruptcy and reopened with a skeleton crew but haven’t come close to pre-raid production levels. To continue production, Agriprocessors may have to (*gasp*) start paying its workers a living wage.
A Chicago Tribune article details the history of low wages in the meatpacking industry:
“There was a time when meatpacking plant jobs paid well, when there was no difficulty at all in obtaining native born workers ” said Stull, the Kansas professor. “Beginning in the 1960s, that changed. The wages were driven down and plants were moved to states where being a union member wasn’t required.”
When adjusted for inflation, meatpacking wages have plummeted since the 1960s, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Slaughterhouse jobs paid an average of $2.60 an hour in 1960, which when adjusted for inflation would be about $19 in current dollars.
Slaughterhouses paid an average of $11.81 an hour in 2007, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The decline in wages has been especially steep since around 1980, when the $8.49 average hourly wage would now be worth $22.31 when adjusted for inflation.
As the economy worsens and the anti-immigrant folks continue protesting any comprehensive plan for immigration reform, it seems hard choices are emerging. Will companies that have been raided raise wages to provide jobs for native born workers? And if so, how will the consumer react to higher food prices?
To read the entire article from the Chicago Tribune, click here.