/ICE raids cause labor decline in sector already seeking to fill thousands of positions

ICE raids cause labor decline in sector already seeking to fill thousands of positions

“Now hiring” is the title of an advertisement Pearl River Foods posted to its Facebook page on Thursday. This was one day after agents raided the Carthage poultry farm as part the largest immigration enforcement operation in the country. Homeland Security Investigations agents removed 680 individuals from their workplaces, central Mississippi poultry processing plants, Wednesday morning. This is about three percent of the state’s poultry workers. Andy Gipson, Mississippi Agriculture Commissioner, stated that it likely means the plants will be closed for a while until legal workers can fill them in. “I believe it should make everyone stop and reflect on the future of agriculture in this state,” Andy Gipson, Mississippi Agriculture Commissioner. The result is a decline in agricultural workforce that affects a low-paying industry already struggling to retain and recruit workers to take on some of the most dangerous jobs across the country. The Mississippi Works job search engine listed 1,964 job opportunities for “meat and poultry cutters and trimmers” as the most popular job on the site. “Not everyone wants to work in a poultry plant. There will always be an immigrant workforce. Gipson stated that legal immigrants are essential. Angela Stuesse, an anthropologist, said that the challenges faced by the poultry processing industry’s workforce are not a coincidence. Plants in Mississippi were open to hiring Latino workers because they were willing and able to work in low-paying jobs in Mississippi during the 1990s, when the industry was growing and labor organizing efforts of African Americans were gaining traction. “The industry has spent 30 years trying to find ways to reduce labor costs,” stated Stuesse, a professor from the University of North Carolina, and author of “Scratching Out a Living”: Latinos and Race in Work in the Deep South. One way to do this is to weaken the power of unions or allow workers to demand better wages. You can also do it by reducing benefits. It is possible to reduce benefits. It’s possible, however, that large raids like the one in Mississippi this weeks can shift the labor pool. Undocumented people may leave the area. Many communities in Mississippi have expressed fear over the raids in the past few days, including at Reverend Roberto Mena’s church in Forest St. Michael. Mena stated that “a lot of people aren’t going to work anymore.” “How are they going to pay the bills?” They say they won’t hire them again.” Meanwhile American consumers have grown accustomed to the low prices of chicken due to the small wages paid to workers who process the product, Stuesse stated. These agriculture jobs account for the majority of the unfilled state job listings. On July 1, Mississippi Works had 1,959 open jobs for “farm workers and laborers”. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 12 percent of all state job openings were for meat cutters or farm workers. They earn a median hourly salary of $12.27 and $11.07. Two plants were also raided Wednesday, Pearl River Foods & Peco Foods. These two plants helped Mississippi win the 2019 “Gold Shovel Award for Economic Development” after they added 450 and 300 employees, respectively. PH Food Inc.’s employee confirmed to Mississippi Today that the Morton Plant had been closed by officers after they detained 90 chicken deboners out of 250 workers. Peco Foods released a statement saying that the company was “navigating a possible disruption of operations.” The raids took place at three plants in Walnut Grove and Canton. Balthazar Nieves is a 15-year old employee at A&B Inc.. He told Mississippi Today that agents had visited the Pelahatchie facility Wednesday during its closure. He said that there were no orders yesterday so his boss had closed the plant. Pearl River Foods was unable to be reached Wednesday, and Koch Foods declined comment. Federal officials declined to say whether any action was taken against employers who employed employees without proper paperwork. They cited an ongoing investigation. However, it is not common for employers to be prosecuted. On Aug. 1, Pearl River Foods posted 200 job opportunities for “cutter/sizer” on its state job bank. This represents 78 percent of the available job openings within 10 miles from Carthage, which is the county seat in Leake County and has a population of approximately 5,000. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the federal minimum wage for this job is $7.25 an hour. This is $5.02 less than what Mississippi’s median hourly wage of fish, poultry, and meat cutters is. The Mississippi Department of Employment Security announced Thursday evening that a Koch Foods job fair was being held Monday at the publicly funded Forest WIN Job Center. A search for “Koch”, the state’s job bank, returns more than 730 jobs in poultry processing and chicken “hanger”. Although the listing is for a confidential employer, the jobs are in the same areas as Koch plants. It is my belief that this is the biggest problem in Mississippi agriculture right now. Where is the workforce going from to keep these processors running, our farms going, and our agribusinesses going? Gipson stated that it is the largest sector of our economy. According to a publication by Mississippi State University, the poultry industry is responsible for $18 billion worth of economic activity. It makes up the largest portion of Mississippi’s agricultural economy. Gipson stated, “This isn’t something to be excited about, but I believe it’s realistic.” We Americans, and Mississippians alike, have grown accustomed to a certain way of life. These occupations are not always easy. It is hard work. It’s hard work. I believe there are young people here who are willing and able to work hard. They just don’t know how to get the jobs. They don’t know where to find these jobs.” According Stuesse, the current debates over immigrant workers as taking American citizens’ jobs or doing jobs that citizens don’t want, drives much of the discussion at the expense of highlighting incentives for employers to hire undocumented workers. “The idea of taking our jobs or doing work we don’t like sort of individualizes and pits workers against one another,” Stuesse stated. “When in fact, the incentive for undocumented workers to be employed is structural and they have do with the inequalities caused by the global economic, with the fact we allow capital to freely move, and labor cannot.” Clarion Ledger reported that the immigration operation was the culmination a year-long investigation. Workers claimed their supervisors raped Hispanic employees and gave them money for the use of the toilet. “Workers all across the country are afraid to speak up and report wage theft, unsafe work conditions, or other issues at work. United Food and Commercial Workers International Union stated that it was imperative to act immediately to end the dangerous climate of fear. “Those who work in these extremely difficult jobs deserve due process. They must be treated with respect.” Michelle Liu and Alex Rozier contributed to this report.