Friday, October 12, 2007

The largest hog-butchering plant in the world in a town with a population of 70!

This story about recent immigration raids at the Smithfield hog-butchering plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina got me to thinking about why meat-processing plants have moved to rural areas in recent years. I mean, isn't it counter-intuitive (if not outright illogical from a business standpoint) to locate a plant that needs 5,200 employees in a town with a population of 70, in the midst of a county with a population of only 32,000? What was Smithfield thinking? That it could count on cheap local labor? but surely not 5,200 employees worth of cheap local labor? Smithfield must have been expecting to draw the immigrant workforce on which it has largely relied. Now with the immigration crackdown, Smithfield is doing what similar rural employers in low-skill industries do: using buses and vans to bring in workers from communities an hour or more away. How does it attract those employers under the circumstances? by paying twice what those workers can make in service jobs in their own communities. But twice the minimum wage of $5.25 is hardly a living wage.

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