Friday, April 18, 2008

Looking for a Word...

**See this, too.**

What do you call companies who make a practice of hiring immigrants, knowing full well some are undocumented, depend on their labor, subject them to brutal, crippling work, pay them low wages, set them in opposition to other exploited workers, and aggressively combat the workers' efforts to organize for better conditions, then turn them in to ICE?

Me, myself, I'm sitting here saying, "Them motherf*ckers!" From the AP
:
Nearly 300 people were arrested Wednesday in immigration and identity theft raids at Pilgrim's Pride poultry plants in five states. … "We knew in advance and cooperated fully," said Ray Atkinson, a spokesman for the Pittsburg, Texas, company. ...The raids were part of a long-term investigation, officials said. Plants were raided in Mount Pleasant, Texas, Batesville, Ark., Live Oak, Fla., Chattanooga, Tenn. and Moorefield, W.Va., authorities said.

Atkinson said the company went to ICE agents with information about identity theft at the Arkansas plant. (emphasis mine)
If you think anyone is pulling the wool over poultry companies' eyes, that they are unwittingly hiring undocumented immigrants, please allow me to disabuse you of that notion. Let me point you to two newspapers series: The Chicken Trail, a 2006 Los Angeles Times series (abstracts free, articles cost), and The Cruelest Cuts, a 2008 Charlotte Observer series. An excerpt:
Of 52 current and former Latino workers at House of Raeford who spoke to the Observer about their legal status, 42 said they were in the country illegally.

Company officials say they hire mostly Latino workers but don't knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

But five current and former House of Raeford supervisors and human resource administrators, including two who were involved in hiring, said some of the company's managers know they employ undocumented workers.

"If immigration came and looked at our files, they'd take half the plant," said Caitlyn Davis, a former Greenville, S.C., plant human resources employee.

Former Greenville supervisors said the plant prefers undocumented workers because they are less likely to question working conditions for fear of losing their jobs or being deported.(emphasis mine)
Also, Russell Cobb's The Chicken Hangers, much of which is part of a paper he wrote for a series of occasional papers sponsored by UT-Austin's Inter-American Policy Studies Program about poultry workers.* Cobb recounts the story of Esteban, an immigrant poultry processing worker:
[A]fter a year on the job, Julio Gordo, a manager at Peco Foods, called Esteban into his office. (To protect his identity, Julio Gordo is a pseudonym.) According to Esteban, Gordo told him that the Social Security Administration had notified Peco Foods that Esteban’s Social Security Number had repeated as a number for another worker.
At first, Esteban feared he would be fired by the plant and deported for document fraud — a fate not uncommon among undocumented workers. “Gordo told me he could have the cops here in five minutes if I didn’t cooperate with him,” Esteban confided to me later.

After Gordo allegedly threatened to deport Esteban, he reassured him that he could stay on at the plant if he could get a new ID and Social Security Number. Esteban knew this would be difficult; fake documents cost hundreds of dollars and were sold by only a handful of people in southern Mississippi on the black market. Furthermore, Esteban knew he would run the risk of being fired or deported if he bought a new Social Security Number, since he would be admitting his old one was false. Even with a new I.D., his seniority — including the two raises he had received for a year’s work — would be revoked. Esteban would be starting over from scratch.

Then, according to Esteban, Gordo told him he was willing to do him a “favor”: Esteban could buy a new Social Security Card from Gordo for $700. This was a favor Gordo had done for many other Mexicans in the same situation, he claimed.
So, given the current employee makeup, poultry processors depend heavily upon the labor of immigrants, including undocumented immigrants. In order to obtain work, these immigrants often become involved in a "fake document" black market,** risky actions that can see them deported or land in jail. Employers are well aware of the risk immigrants take. Federal prosecutors certainly believed so when they charged Tyson "of conspiring to smuggle immigrants to work at the company's poultry processing plants."***

Yet, despite the fact that "immigrant labor" has become a necessity to the poultry industry, immigrants have not. Poultry processors are used to high turnover--the UFCW suggests that annual turnover is well over 100%--and treat their workers as interchangeable, a disposable workforce. They themselves incur no risk. The article on Pilgrim's Pride lists a number of charges that immigrant workers will face then states succinctly, "Pilgrim's Pride faces no charges." Tyson beat the federal case by disavowing claims that they recruited and smuggled immigrant workers, blaming those actions not on company policies but on a few "rogue" employees.

And the immigrant workers who are fired, jailed, deported with little recourse will simply be replaced.
_______________________________________
*Anita Grabowski was an author of one of those papers and has gone on to produce Mississippi Chicken. From the film's synopsis:
In the 1990s, poultry companies in Mississippi and throughout the American South began to heavily recruit Latin American immigrants, most of them undocumented, to work in the poultry plants. A decade later, there are now large immigrant communities in poultry towns all over the South, and the immigrants find themselves in an extremely vulnerable situation, where they are frequent victims of abuse by employers, police officers, landlords, neighbors and even other immigrants.

**For more, see House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims, Illegal Immigration Enforcement and Social Security Protection Act of 2005: Hearing before the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims. 109th Congress, 1st Session, 12 May 2005 (Washington: GPO, 2005).

***The INS accused Tyson of cultivating a culture “in which the hiring of illegal alien workers was condoned in order to meet production goals and cut costs to maximize profits.” The indictments alleged that Tyson aided and abetted these workers in obtaining fake documents.

10 comments:

Aunt B said...

When I was working summers during college in Illinois, corporations in the Quad Cities (such as John Deere and ADM) had two strategies for lessening the strength of the unions among their workers.

One was to farm vital parts of the work out to subcontractor--packaging plants--that weren't organized. When I worked at one such place, people like me, who didn't speak Spanish, were pared with people who spoke only Spanish, to assure that neither could discuss organizing with the other.

At ADM, during this time, the woman I worked with, who according to the bosses only spoke Spanish, but who actually spoke English fluently, told me that ADM hired folks they knew were not here legally so that when the unions were able to infiltrate the shop, ADM would turn itself in to INS (at the time) and INS would come and round up all the "illegals" and send them back to Mexico courtesy of the tax payers.

Then, and again, before you sue me, ADM, let me reiterate I was just hearing this second-hand, supposedly, ADM would have a bus at the airport in Mexico and everyone who pledged not to unionize and to work against unionization among the other employees was put on the bus and brought back to their families in Illinois.

She and her husband had been living in Illinois for about ten years at the time and this had happened to him, she said, twice.

I say all this only because, somehow, these companies who have for years been hiring these workers because they are so uniquely vulnerable to exploitation have managed to cultivate a public face of being halpless victims of conniving criminals.

And that makes me very angry.

Mommy to Ander and Wife to Box said...

"What do you call companies who make a practice of hiring immigrants, knowing full well some are undocumented, depend on their labor, subject them to brutal, crippling work, pay them low wages, set them in opposition to other exploited workers, and aggressively combat the workers' efforts to organize for better conditions, then turn them in to ICE?" -elle

Asshats.

But your word works well, too.

Brian said...

When I was in grad school in Arkansas, Tyson got busted flying undocumented workers into its private airfield. They got off with a slap on the wrist.

I'm not a vegetarian, but the meat-packing industry just might turn me into one.

Oh and I left my word over at Shakesville, but I'll put it here too. Dickneck.

troubleinchina said...

But gosh, don't you know - those folks are here to STEAL OUR JOBS. *nodnod*

*shoots self*

I have no idea how anyone believes that someone could "accidently" work illegally for a company. Companies know exactly what they're doing.

Grrrr. Here via shakes, thanks for this post, Elle.

Bill said...

I represent many chicken workers in unpaid overtime cases and the reasons why the poultry companies have refused to bring their pay practices in line are:
1. Illegal/hispanic workers are very wary of participating in litigation for fear of retaliation.
2. Political cover from the Republican regime because of the political connections of the Tysons and Pilgrims of the world.
3. It is cheaper for them to pay lawyers than to pay their employees fairly.

The irony of the whole situation is that the greatest proponents of immigration reform (big business conservatives) include the same group that benefits most from illegal immigrant labor (big business).

Go figure.

Brian said...

Don't forget that the Clintons have very cozy ties with Tyson as well, dating back to their Arkansas days. It's corporatism that's the big enemy here.

elle said...

Your comments are all on point!

Aunt B, what I see in Arkansas and Louisiana is the use of contractors and the fact that in Arkansas at least, the UFCW has one Spanish-speaking organizer. Plus, from the interviews I've done, many people feel the union is definitely company-oriented.

Brian, when I was researching my dissertation, I ran across so many opinion articles that accused Bill Clinton of basically selling unskilled workers out for lowered unemployment rates/the ability to say "I brought jobs to Arkansas."

elle said...

And Bill, would you mind e-mailing me? I'd like to talk to you as I gear up to revise my manuscript.

Kaethe said...

I think I'd fall back on the classic term "slavemasters".

Brian said...

Brian, when I was researching my dissertation, I ran across so many opinion articles that accused Bill Clinton of basically selling unskilled workers out for lowered unemployment rates/the ability to say "I brought jobs to Arkansas."

They weren't wrong either. Bill Clinton had many good traits, but a love for organized labor was not among them.

Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...