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Vanessa Bauza, Chicago Tribune, February 11, 2008


That’s a big problem for meatpacking plants, which scramble to staff their production lines, and for years have relied on immigrants to fill jobs local workers won’t take. As immigration agents have cracked down on businesses across the nation, arresting thousands of illegal workers and sending others into hiding, two Downstate pork processing plants have turned to Puerto Rico, which offers a willing workforce without the legal hurdles of a foreign country.

Over the last seven months, recruiters from Meadowbrook Farms in Rantoul and the Cargill plant in Beardstown have made several trips to Puerto Rico, hiring more than 130 workers, though roughly a third have returned to the island.

Those who remain, like Alcover, say the meatpacking jobs offer higher salaries and more stability than they had in Puerto Rico. Unemployment in Alcover’s hometown of Jayuya (pronounced ha-you-ya), nestled in the island’s central mountains, hovers around 13 percent. She was making $6.25 an hour doing construction work when she heard about Meadowbrook’s $9-an-hour starting salaries. A day after getting the job, Alcover, 38, packed her bags, kissed her teenage sons goodbye and boarded a flight toChicago.


Many meatpacking plants are in constant hiring mode, scouring for workers in inner cities, reaching out to agencies that resettle refugees and recruiting in rural communities where factories have shut down.

The Cargill pork processing plant had never gone outside the continental United States before, but Puerto Ricans’ U.S. citizenship, coupled with the island’s soaring unemployment, make it an attractive spot to scout for workers, said spokesman Mark Klein. So far, the Beardstown plant has added about 50 Puerto Rican workers and a dozen more were expected to start last week, Klein said.


Meadowbrook Farms employs about 550 workers to slaughter and process 3,300 hogs a day. It produces just 1 percent of the nation’s pork, but like its larger competitors, turnover is high: Meadowbrook loses 12 percent of its workforce every month. The plant recently added a second shift, making hiring needs more urgent. Puerto Ricans have helped fill the gap.


Depressed region

Most have come from the heart of the coffee-growing region known as the high country, where pastel-colored concrete homes cling to the sides of lush mountains. News of the jobs spread quickly among longtime friends and relatives who later moved together to Rantoul, a mostly blue-collar town of 13,000 people surrounded by farm fields.


Meadowbrook advances workers the price of airfare to Chicago and two months’ rent in temporary apartments until they find their own housing. The most recent arrivals sleep on air mattresses, watch a television they pulled from a garbage bin and bundle up in parkas fromWal-Mart. In the mornings they commute a few miles to the plant.


But not all has gone smoothly with the new recruits. Some returned to the island because they missed their families, others flew back fearing reprisals after a knife fight at a party injured a fellow worker. Still others were fired for “unacceptable behavior,” including lateness and absenteeism, said Jim Altemus, Meadowbrook Farms’ vice president of marketing.

In December, when plant managers gave the fired employees 24 hours to leave the temporary apartments, which were leased to Meadowbrook, some workers complained they were being treated like illegal immigrants.

Since then tensions have subsided and Altemus said new Puerto Rican workers have come for employment at the plant.


Long-standing history

U.S. companies have been dipping into Puerto Rico’s labor pool since the late 1940s, when an industrialization program shifted the island’s agrarian economy to manufacturing and tourism. Police departments, school districts and hospitals travel to the island for skilled bilingual workers. But several large meatpacking companies said they don’t see the need to go that far afield.

Smithfield Packing Co., which employs 14,000 workers in factories and warehouses from Maryland to Florida, looked into recruiting in Puerto Rico years ago but never followed up, said spokesman Dennis Pittman. Instead, the company runs ads in local newspapers and works with state employment agencies. It also wants to add more automation to reduce the demand for workers, Pittman said.


Original article

Email Vanessa Bauza at

(Posted on February 13, 2008)

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Well, there’s nothing we can do about this since technically Puerto Rico is a US territory. Puerto Ricans come in White, black and mixed, but I don’t imagine any of those blond, green eyed Whites will be gutting carcasses in these plants.

Posted by at 6:17 PM on February 13

I’ll bet the Philippines will also become the next scouting site-aren’t they also a US territory? The must have some connection to the USA because the decorative American flags that Home Depot sells are made in the Phillipines. I thought it was illegal to made a US flag anywhere else but America.

Posted by Jacqui in AZ at 6:18 PM on February 13

Meatpacking has to rank up there as one of the worst jobs one could possibly hold, and is definitely one of the most dangerous. The New York Times just ran an article last week describing a neurological illness occurring in meatpackers at a pork processing plant in Minnesota - some of the descriptions of the work that is performed are utterly nauseating. I almost lost my lunch on the second page:

The increase in pay mentioned in the article of an additional 2.75/hour (especially given the differential in cost of living) hardly seems to justify moving from invigorating outdoor work in a tropical paradise to slaughtering hogs in a warehouse in a freezing cold, rural Illinois town. No wonder so many of them are not showing up or are already returning home.

Posted by Dave at 6:34 PM on February 13

Yep. Put the “other hispanic”, from Puerto Rico to work. To Hell with Americans.

Keep shipping jobs overseas -that’s the ticket. Soon there won’t be any White folks here. We will be forced to overseas to work. But hey- who cares, in Washington D.C.? Won’t the Blacks, Hispanics, Arabs and other assorted and diverse criminals pay the Congressmen and Senators wages?

Posted by lydia at 8:12 PM on February 13

The U.S. should let Puerto Rico go.

Posted by at 8:20 PM on February 13

This situation is really mind-blowing. Personally, I don’t think the people who run these plants are deliberately trying to wreck their own cultures by hiring illegals and cheap foreign labor, but that’s the net result — collectively — of what they’re doing. I don’t know what the margins are like in the meatpacking industry, but I’m guessing they’re not that high. These plant owners are probably locked in. They’re responding to the economic realities of globalization, but you’ve got to wonder how any culture can survive an economic system like this. The thing that blows my mind is the idea that capitalism could end up destroying the country that it made so prosperous — and I’m saying that as a former Reagan Republican. Capitalism is probably the best system ever devised for generating and distributing wealth, but if it ends up destabilizing homogeneous cultures in the process, maybe we should get rid of it. Or maybe the fatal flaw in capitalism is that it falls into the hands of greedy hustlers and devolves into the self-destructive system we’re seeing today. I really don’t know.

Posted by Spengler at 9:03 PM on February 13

More evidence that we “won” the Spanish-American War!

Every few years they hold a referendum in Puerto Rico to see if the “citizens” of the “commonwealth” desire independence. Why don’t they hold similar referenda in New York, New Jersey and Florida — Puerto Rican independence would win in a landslide!

Posted by Reg at 10:12 PM on February 13

“News of the jobs spread quickly among longtime friends and relatives who later moved together to Rantoul”

American’s can’t even get together on what flavor of Girl Scout cookie to sell or on what time to have Halloween.

Posted by at 10:44 PM on February 13

“…some of the descriptions of the work that is performed are utterly nauseating. I almost lost my lunch on the second page…”


Normally I would never read anything the NY Times prints but I made an exception for the article you suggested — interesting, but gross as you pointed out.

The book Fast Food Nation also has information about slaughterhouses that is not pretty — makes a good argument for vegetarianism.


Posted by BonBon at 10:51 PM on February 13

Get rid of welfare, and you’ll find plenty of American workers.

Oh, by the way, the Spanish-American war ended in 1898. I think it is time we left PR to be what it really is: a foreign country.

Posted by Flamethrower at 12:00 AM on February 14

I too want to see Puerto Rico become an independent nation, but I’m afraid that, as long as Fidel Castro remains in power in Cuba, Puerto Rico will emain a U.S. posession.

The reason some politicians want Puerto Rico to become a state is so that Puerto Rico will not become a Cuban satellite. After Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, Hawaii became a state (I know, I know, it took 18 years), so that the U.S. would go to war if Hawaii was attacked by an Oriental enemy. Same thing with Alaska- the cold war with the USSR led to statehood for Alaska, so it would be more palatable to go to war. Thus, if Cuba fired a missile into Puerto Rico - and Puerto Rico was a STATE - then it would be an act of war, and the U.S. could do legally what it tried to do by proxy- get rid of Castro. After all, the U.S. Constitution provides that, “an attack on one state shall be considered an attack on all’…

Posted by Soprano Fan at 2:04 AM on February 14

Oh Yea lets do it. These people have an unequaled history of crime and violence. Lets get as many here as fast as we can.
It will give the police something to do on a Saturday night.
Sorry donut shops, these law enforcement people have a job to do.

Posted by T-Rexx at 9:45 AM on February 14

“I’ll bet the Philippines will also become the next scouting site-aren’t they also a US territory?”

No. The Philippines are an independent country. At one time, they were part of the US foray into colonization, but no longer.

Posted by SG at 9:55 AM on February 14

Florida is a good deal closer to Cuba than Puerto Rico. If Castro fires a missile into Puerto Rico, it’s probably because he’s mad at Puerto Rico, not the US.

I wonder if he would launch it from one of those advanced floating trucks? Why don’t we have a seagoing pickup made in America?


Posted by grob hahn at 12:50 PM on February 14

Soprano fan;

How exactly is Cuba, or even Cuba + Peurto Rico any possible threat to the United States? Alaska was land legally purchased by the United States from Czarist Russia in what can only be called the best real estate deal in all of history. Hawaii should never have been an American possession, let alone become a state. It was a combination of American military bases in the Phillipinnes and America’s hostility toward Japan from 1931 onwards that caused the Pearl harbour attack.

Posted by at 4:47 PM on February 14

Can those white gringos up there find Americans to work? Or have they all quit having children? I’m getting sicker and sicker of the white race and its girly ways.

Posted by Elrey Jones at 6:13 PM on February 14

The U.S. should just give Puerto Rico its independence - whether they want it or not. I can’t think of one single benfit this poor Spanish-speaking island has ever made to the United States.

Posted by at 3:13 PM on February 16

Alaska was land legally purchased by the United States from Czarist Russia in what can only be called the best real estate deal in all of history.

With all that oil, and the fact that it kept the Russians out of the New World for good, it certainly was a good deal. But Manhattan Island for $24 in beads? New England for a handful of muskets? The Louisiana territory for a few million? The whole of California and the Southwest for a little war (and a few mil in reparations)? All of those were VERY good real estate deals. Most Americans, after all, have been to California or Colorado or states formed from the Louisiana Purchase. Most have not been to Alaska.

Posted by Alan at 9:14 PM on February 17

I must assume that there are no unemployed, no welfare mothers facing the end of their welfare, no kids just out of high school, no jobless recently returned military, no one needing a $9.00 full time job in Rantoul of Beardstown?

In a small town with low rents, $9.00 per hour goes a long way. Of course with the Puerto Ricans crowding 10 working men into a one bedroom apartment, housing costs will soon rise.

I threw something at a Cargill ad on TV once. I had never heard of it till there was something on about Cargill’s refusal to hire American. The ad showed the mountains of Kentucky, with country music playing. The ad showed a black church having a picknic, a music festival, dances, outdoor parties rib shacks etc. EVery actor was chomping on Cargill pork.

Posted by at 3:49 PM on February 18

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