Labor Practices in the Meat Packing and Poultry Processing Industry: An Overview
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress
During the early 1960s, segments of the meat packing industry began to move from large urban
centers to small communities scattered throughout the Midwest. By century’s end, this migration
had effected major changes within the industry. The old packing firms that had established their
dominance during the late 1800s had largely disappeared or been restructured as part of a new
breed of packers. Joining with the poultry processors who had emerged in the wake of World War
II, they quickly became a major force in American and, later, global industry.
The urban-to-rural migration, some suggest, had at least two major motivations. One was to
locate packing facilities in areas where animals were raised rather than transporting the stock to
urban packinghouses as had been the tradition: a more economical arrangement. The other was a
quest for lower labor costs: to leave behind the urban unions and their collective bargaining
agreements and to operate, as nearly as possible, in a union-free environment. This initiative
involved a low-wage strategy, allowing for employment of lower skilled and low-wage workers.
The aftermath of this migration was complex. The urban unionized workforce, by and large, did
not follow the migrating plants. Since most local communities could not provide an adequate
supply of labor, the relocation process implied recruitment of workers from outside the area of
production. In practice, packers and processors came increasingly to rely upon recent immigrants
or, allegedly in some instances, upon workers not authorized for employment in the United States.
Gradually, the new breed packers (and their poultry counterparts) began to dominate the market—
through various business arrangements consolidating the industry into a small number of large
firms. This corporate churning impacted the trade union movement and its relations with the
industry. The unions, too, were restructured. The labor-management relationship, largely set
during the 1940s, was gradually replaced with new patterns of bargaining. Further, the
demographics of the workforce changed with the introduction of a new racial/ethnic and gender
mixture. Distances between the rural plants made union organization difficult, as did the new
linguistic and cultural differences among workers. Gradually, the workforce was transformed
from high-wage, stable, and union, to lower-wage and often non-union, and came to be
characterized by a high turnover rate.
From time to time, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) has received requests for
information on labor standards and labor-management relations in the meat packing industry.
Often, these queries have been associated with the Fair Labor Standards Act and the National
Labor Relations Act, but there has been concern with other legislation and issues as well. Some of
these areas have been (and continue to be) the subject of litigation. This report is intended as an
introduction to the meat packing/processing industry, the unions that have been active in that
field, and labor-management practices among the packers and their employees. It will not likely
A Sketch of the Meat Packing Industry...........................................................................................1
Consolidation: Round One........................................................................................................2
Consolidation: Round Two........................................................................................................2
The Poultry Processing Industry...............................................................................................4
Unionization of the Meat and Poultry Workforce...........................................................................6
The Early Years Under the Amalgamated.................................................................................7
Developing a Stable Union.................................................................................................7
A Time of Trial and Upheaval.............................................................................................8
The CIO and the Packinghouse Workers.................................................................................10
Grass Roots Initiatives......................................................................................................12
The Packinghouse Workers Organizing Committee (PWOC)..........................................12
United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA)........................................................13
The Merger: UPWA and the Amalgamated (1968).................................................................15
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW)............................................................16
The Retail Clerks (RCIU) and the Amalgamated.............................................................16
A Merger Is Consummated (1979)....................................................................................17
Industrial Restructuring and Its Impact on Labor...................................................................17
Managerial Churning and Collective Bargaining.............................................................18
The Ascendance of the New Breed....................................................................................19
Areas of Economics and Public Policy.........................................................................................26
Assembling a Workforce.........................................................................................................26
Recruitment and Characteristics.......................................................................................26
Turnover and Worker Retention........................................................................................28
The Immigration/Alien Worker Factor....................................................................................31
A Shortage of Labor?........................................................................................................32
Actively Seeking the Foreign Worker...............................................................................33
Only Jobs That Americans Don’t Want?...........................................................................33
Employers, Workers, and Immigration Authorities..........................................................35
Labor Standards and Working Conditions.....................................................................................36
A Movement for Change.........................................................................................................36
FLSA Coverage and Related Issues........................................................................................37
Donning and Doffing........................................................................................................37
Line Speeds and Rest Breaks............................................................................................39
Possibilities for Change in Labor Practices...................................................................................40
Looking at the Workplace.......................................................................................................41
Considerations of Public Policy..............................................................................................42
Fair Labor Standards Act..................................................................................................42
National Labor Relations Act............................................................................................43
Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ Protection Act (MSPA)..............................43
Administration and Enforcement Policy...........................................................................43
Table 1. Racial and Nationality Trends Among Slaughtering and Meat-Packing Workers
in Chicago, 1909 and 1928.........................................................................................................10
Author Contact Information..........................................................................................................45
uring the early 1960s, segments of the meat packing industry began to move from urban
centers to rural communities scattered throughout the Midwest. By century’s end, this
migration had effected major changes within the industry. The old packing firms that had D
established their dominance during the late 1800s had largely disappeared or had been
restructured as part of a new breed of packers. Joining with the poultry processors who had
emerged in the wake of World War II, they became a major force in American (and, later, global) 1
industry—and a major employer.
Business practices have affected the labor-management relationship, recruitment of workers, and
the protective labor standards that apply to persons employed in the industry. The last half of the th
20 century witnessed relocation of major firms, a move from predominantly urban to more
heavily rural production, and a shift in the demographics of the industry’s workforce. The
dispersal of the industry, some argue, has also affected the manner in which employment-related
law is enforced. Clearly, it has impacted the trade unionization of the workforce. At issue are a
number of federal statutes and their administration: the Fair Labor Standards Act, the National
Labor Relations Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act and, potentially, the Migrant and
Seasonal Agricultural Workers Protection Act. Similarly, both the industry and its workforce have
been affected by federal immigration policy. These general areas have been a continuing focus of 2
Department of Labor (DOL) action and of litigation.
This report provides an introduction to labor issues in meat packing and poultry processing. It
sketches the evolution of the industry and of the related trade union movement, stressing
development of corporate and trade union cultures and the shifting demographics of the
workforce. It notes areas of tension and conflict within and between both labor and management.
And, it points to considerations of public policy that affect the continuing labor-management 3
“Up to the 1860s,” writes Lewis Corey, “meat packing was a small-scale enterprise, not yet 4
industrial,” dominated by merchants. Livestock were slaughtered for local consumption where
they were raised or, if transported to market, were shipped or driven live to rail yards and, then, to
urban packinghouses. Butchers, both in small community packing houses and retail markets, were
1 Seafood production, now largely absorbed into the meat and poultry industry, is not dealt with here. In general, see
the essays from Southern Exposure, fall 1991: Richard Schweid, “Down on the Farm,” pp. 14-21; Eric Bates, “The Kill
Line,” pp. 22-29; and Eric Bates, “Parting the Waters,” pp. 34-36. See also David Griffith, Jones’s Minimal: Low-Wage
Labor in the United States (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993), which deals with meat, poultry, and
shellfish. (Hereafter cited as Griffith, Jones’s Minimal.)
2 In general, see U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Agricultural Economic Report No. 785,
Feb. 2000, Consolidation in U.S. Meatpacking, by James M. MacDonald, Michael E. Ollinger, Kenneth E. Nelson, and
Charles R. Handy, 42 pp.
3 The meat packing and poultry processing industries are complex structures. This report presents an overview of the
industry and of labor policy and practice in that sector. It has been developed from published sources: synthesizing the
academic literature, selectively examining industry journals and related materials. But, it is a sketch—an introduction.
Occupational Safety and Health, a highly specialized and technical field, is discussed in other CRS reports and
documents and is not dealt with in any substantial manner here.
4 Lewis Corey, Meat and Man: A Study of Monopoly, Unionism, and Food Policy (New York: The Viking Press, 1950),
p. 37. (Hereafter cited as Corey, Meat and Man.)
skilled craftsmen, often self-employed or engaged in a facility with only a few other similarly
Late in the 19th century, larger plants began to develop. Live animals, collected from throughout
the Great Plains, were shipped to facilities normally located in major rail centers such as Chicago,
Kansas City, or Omaha. Dressed beef was then shipped to branch houses for final processing and
sale. Pork was treated somewhat differently, some being cured or, later, canned. The packing
plants were enormous multistory facilities. Animals entered at an upper level and the carcass
moved along a disassembly line until dressed meat and by-products emerged at ground level.
Refrigerated rail cars appeared in the 1870s and 1880s. While this made shipment of dressed meat
less difficult, it appears not to have diminished the dominance of the great midwestern packing th
companies. Early in the 20 century, five firms became dominant: Swift, Armour, Morris, Wilson,
and Cudahy. By 1916, the “Big Five” slaughtered the great bulk of cattle, calves, hogs and sheep 5
moving in interstate commerce.
The stock yards were “capital intensive” but with a rapidly expanding workforce. The workers
(and cattlemen/farmers) found themselves at a disadvantage when dealing with the packers who
were highly organized with an eye for efficiency and profitability. With the introduction of labor-
saving equipment and careful structuring of the work process, the packers were increasingly able 6
to employ largely low-wage workers with few skills. Such work came to be associated with the
most recent round of immigrant labor. “Immigrants flooded the labor market and ... accepted the
common-labor earnings” offered by industry. “Simultaneously,” notes David Brody, “an
increasing number of women found a place in the packing houses at wages well below the 7
unskilled male rate.” Gradually, if sporadically, the workforce became unionized: wages
increased, worker protections were introduced, and work processes became institutionalized.
In the late 1950s, two veteran packinghouse executives, Currier Holman and Andy Anderson,
reassessed conditions in the beef packing industry. “Why should meat companies,” they queried,
“remain wage-locked in heavily unionized cities when unorganized workers could be hired at far 8
lower wages out in the country?” In March 1960, having accepted their own challenge, Holman
and Anderson set up a new company: Iowa Beef Packers, Inc.—later, just IBP.
5 Richard J. Arnould, “Changing Patterns of Concentration in American Meat Packing, 1880-1963,” Business History
Review, spring 1971, pp. 20-22. In 1923, Armour acquired Morris.
6 Corey, Meat and Man, p. 45.
7 David Brody, The Butcher Workmen: A Study of Unionization (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964), p. 6.
(Hereafter cited as Brody, The Butcher Workmen.)
8 Steve Bjerklie, “On the Horns of a Dilemma: The U.S. Meat and Poultry Industry,” in Donald D. Stull, et al., Any
Way You Cut It: Meat Processing and Small-Town America (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995), p. 53.
(Hereafter cited as Bjerklie, On the Horns of a Dilemma.) That Anderson and Holman were concerned with efficiency
and cost-cutting—and were anxious to operate with a minimal union presence—is stressed in Jeffrey Rodengen’s
corporate study, The Legend of IBP (Fort Lauderdale, Write Stuff Enterprises, Inc., 2000), pp. 22-25, and 47. (Hereafter
cited as Rodengen, The Legend of IBP.)
Though the old firms were still economically viable, the huge urban plants had become dated and,
in some measure, inefficient. Further, the continuing “supply of cheap, unskilled labor” had 9
begun to dry up and, since the late 1930s, the industry had become increasingly unionized.
Led by IBP (among others), packers migrated to rural areas where land was cheaper and local
communities, pressed for economic development, were willing to provide tax and other incentives 10
to relocating firms. But, there were other elements as well. Growers found it more economical
to move livestock to a local/regional center rather than shipping animals to Omaha or Chicago.
The new (1950s) interstate highway system provided easy access to national markets. Rather than
ship sides of beef to markets for on-site cutting, the packers introduced a system of boxed beef in
which meat, deboned and trimmed, was sealed in vacuum bags and shipped directly to
supermarkets. Easier to handle, boxed beef was quickly accepted by retailers—and had the added 11
advantage of largely eliminating the need for retail butchers.
Reduced labor costs were a significant aspect of the move. Relocation “altered the wage structure 12
within which the industry operated.” The new workers were said to have been accustomed to 13
low wages and to a “country-style” non-union work environment. Further, automated facilities 14
allowed the new breed of packers to organize line operations in a manner that diminished the 15
need for skilled workers, permitting employment of inexperienced and low-wage personnel.
Finally, formation of new corporate entities (with new plants in new locations) permitted a 16
change from established labor-management relationships.
This migration involved fierce competition between firms for market share. Some older
established firms went out of business or were taken over by new breed packers (sometimes
associated with conglomerates). Others adjusted to the new strategies but, in the process, changed
their corporate culture—adopting a more contentious labor-management relationship. By 1990, a
new “Big Three” had emerged: IBP, Excel (a subsidiary of Cargill) and ConAgra.
9 Bjerklie, On the Horns of a Dilemma, pp. 56-57.
10 See Charles Craypo, “Strike and Relocation in Meatpacking,” in Craypo and Bruce Nissen, eds., Grand Designs: The
Impact of Corporate Strategies on Workers, Unions, and Communities (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993), pp.
201-202. (Hereafter cited as Craypo, Strike and Relocation.) Concerning industrial migration and local governmental
policy, see, for example, James C. Cobb, The Selling of the South: The Southern Crusade for Industrial Development,
1936-1990 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993).
11 Bjerklie, On the Horns of a Dilemma, p. 54; Craypo, Strike and Relocation, p. 185; and Jimmy M. Skaggs, Prime
Cut: Livestock Raising and Meatpacking in the United States, 1607-1983 (College Station: Texas A & M University
Press, 1986), pp. 190-196. On Sept. 15, 2003, p. C15, the Bureau of National Affairs’ Daily Labor Report stated:
“According to UFCW [United Food and Commercial Workers, AFL-CIO] data, approximately 100,000 of its 1.4
million members are retail meatcutters, compared with about 400,000 meatcutter-members 30 years ago.”
12 Roger Horowitz, “The Decline of Unionism in America’s Meatpacking Industry,” Social Policy, spring 2002, p. 33.
(Hereafter cited as Horowitz, The Decline of Unionism.)
13 Bjerklie, On the Horns of a Dilemma, p. 53.
14 The term, new breed, is widely used in the literature to differentiate the post-1950s packers from the more-traditional
firms. It is suggestive more of a business approach, however, than of the age of the firm.
15 Wilson Warren, Struggling with “Iowa’s Pride”: Labor Relations, Unionism, and Politics in the Rural Midwest
Since 1877 (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2000), pp. 120-121. (Hereafter cited as Warren, Struggling with
16 Carol Andreas, Meatpackers and Beef Barons: Company Town in a Global Economy (Niwot, Colorado: University
Press of Colorado, 1994), pp. 59-82. (Hereafter cited as Andreas, Meatpackers and Beef Barons.)
Poultry processing had early been a distinct sub-segment of the meat industry. With the
restructuring of the 1960s, such distinctions came increasingly to be blurred. A single corporation
might have interests in each line—and in other areas as well.
Until the early 1940s, poultry raising was largely a small farm type operation. Its transformation
began with wartime demand. Initially, large numbers of relatively small growers entered the field; th
but, at least by the 1950s, some consolidation had begun. By the late 20 century, five or six
major concerns had come to dominate poultry production—with about 250,000 persons employed 17
in the industry.
“Before the 1960s,” suggests Bob Hall of the Institute for Southern Studies, “nearly all birds were
shipped whole from the slaughterhouse to the grocery store, where butchers cut them up or
packaged them whole—sometimes with the store label. Today ,” he states, “poultry giants
... have replaced the neighborhood butcher with huge processing units attached to their 18
slaughterhouses.” By 1990, the industry expected to produce 5.5 billion broilers a year. More
recently, there has been a transition to value-added products such as chicken fajitas and nuggets.
Several patterns quickly developed. The industry, increasingly, came to be centered in the
Delmarva region and the South. In structure, with growth, it became vertically integrated with
corporate control of the birds from egg to market. Sequentially, two groups of workers are
involved: grow-out farmers and hourly workers on the disassembly line. For the latter, work is
unpleasant, hazardous, and reportedly requires only low levels of education or skill—but may be 19
attractive to a rural population with few economic options.
Typically, the corporate processor will contract-out the actual growth of the birds to local grow-
out farmers. Usually, the processor (or integrator) provides the chicks, feed, any necessary
medication, etc., to the grower. The grower provides the buildings in which the birds are raised
and the labor involved in caring for them—receiving four or five batches of chicks each year.
When the boilers are ready for slaughter, the integrator dispatches a crew of chicken catchers to
retrieve the birds and haul them to the processing plant. Ordinarily, the farmer does not actually
own the chickens that are raised for the processor.
For the grow-out farmer, several patterns have developed. First. Starting from a marginal
agricultural operation, the farmer may take out a loan to construct his growing facilities. In the
chicken houses were often needed to sustain the farmer. Speaking generally, the chicken houses
17 Industrial Safety & Hygiene News, July 2002, p. 14. See also The News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), June 6, 2001, p.
18 Bob Hall, “Chicken Empires,” Southern Exposure, summer 1989, pp. 12-17.
19 David Griffith, “Hay Trabajo: Poultry Processing, Rural Industrialization, and the Latinization of Low-Wage Labor,”
in Donald D. Stull, et al., Any Way You Cut It: Meat Processing and Small-Town America (Lawrence: University Press
of Kansas, 1995), pp. 129-130. (Hereafter cited as Griffith, Hay Trabajo.)
20 Cost estimates vary. Of the early 1980s, Hope Shand, “Billions of Chickens: The Business of the South,” Southern
Exposure, Nov./Dec. 1983, p. 78, states: “A new fully automated chicken house costs from $60,000 to $80,000.”
were specialized structures with little value for other purposes. Second. The grower may begin
operation with a substantial debt and, essentially, with a single market: i.e., the corporate
processor. Grower/processor contracts have tended to be short-term, renewed with each new 21
batch of chickens.
The grow-out farmer normally “relinquishes all major decision-making responsibilities” when the 22
contract is signed. Though the farmer “pretty much works like a wage-earning worker,” he is
actually an independent contractor and, as such, lacks options a laborer might enjoy. Tied to his
mortgage and chicken houses, he “can’t change jobs” easily. The grower is not covered by
wage/hour and related laws nor does he receive “retirement benefits, health insurance, or paid 23
vacations.” In spite of intermittent attempts by growers to organize to enhance their bargaining 24
power, they seem to have been unable to do so.
Aside from profit motivation, brand name marketing may require that the processor retain quality
control—including the manner in which birds are raised, fed and cared for. “Vertical integration
allows us to control the quality of the birds from conception to consumption,” John Lea, a Tyson 25
vice president, reportedly stated. Given market constraints and fluctuations in demand, it may 26
be unrealistic for a farmer to assume that the supply of chicks will be constant.
(Hereafter cited as Shand, Billions of Chickens.) Steve Bjerklie, writing a decade later, “Dark Passage: Is Contract
Poultry Growing a Return to Servitude?,” Meat & Poultry, Aug. 1994, p. 25, states: “One integrator’s figures show the
cost of building a chicken grow-out house to company specifications to be about $125,000. A turkey house runs
$190,000.” By the late 1990s, grow-out chicken houses seem to have averaged about 40 feet in width and 400 feet long,
covering 16,000 square feet and accommodating about 20,000 birds. See Stephen F. Strausberg, From Hills and
Hollers: Rise of the Poultry Industry in Arkansas (Fayetteville: Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, 1995), p.
180. (Hereafter cited as Strausberg, From Hills and Hollers.) Donald D. Stull and Michael J. Broadway, in
Slaughterhouse Blues: The Meat and Poultry Industry in North America (Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2004),
p. 46, state: “A broiler house costs between $125,000 and $140,000 and must be built to company specifications.
Breeder and pullet houses can cost even more.” (Hereafter cited as Stull and Broadway, Slaughterhouse Blues.)
21 Stull and Broadway, in Slaughterhouse Blues, p. 41, state: “For growers, contracts offered a guaranteed income from
their flocks and took the risks out of raising chickens, save one—the company did not have to renew the grower’s
contract.” They observe, however, that the income of grow-out farmers can be relatively meager (pp. 41-51). See also
Strausberg, From Hills and Hollers, p. 136; and Fred A. Lasley, et al., The U.S. Broiler Industry (Washington: U.S.
Department of Agriculture, Nov. 1988), Economic Research Service, Agricultural Economic Report Number 591, p.
22 William D. Heffernan, “Constraints in the U.S. Poultry Industry,” in Harry K. Schwarzweller, ed., Research in Rural
Sociology and Development: Focus on Agriculture (Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, Inc., 1984), p. 238.
23 Barry Yeoman, “Don’t Count Your Chickens,” Southern Exposure, summer 1989, pp. 22-23. See also Bob Hall,
“The Kill Line: Facts of Life, Proposals for Change,” in Donald Stull, et al., Any way You Cut It, p. 221. (Hereafter
cited as Hall, The Kill Line.)
24 U.S. Department of Agriculture, The Broiler Industry: An Economic Study of Structure, Practices and Problems,
1967, p. 45. See also John Strange, “‘One-Sided’ Contracts Make Farming Risky,” National Catholic Reporter, Nov.
15, 2002, p. 12; Richard Behar, “Arkansas Pecking Order,” Time, Oct. 26, 1992, p. 53; Shand, Billions of Chickens, pp.
78 and 79; Strausberg, From Hills and Hollers, pp. 80, 91, 104, 122, and 136; Keith Nunes, “Developing a Common
Voice,” Meat & Poultry, Dec. 1992, pp. 16 and 18; and Chao Xiong, “Taking Wing: Hmong Are Moving Again, This
Time to Poultry Farms,” The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 26, 2004, pp. A1 and A6.
25 Scott Kilman, “Moving On Up,” The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 25, 2004, pp. R6 and R10.
26 On the grower/integrator relationship, see three articles by Steve Bjerklie collectively titled “Dark Passage,” which
appeared in the industry journal, Meat & Poultry, Aug. 1994, pp. 24-26, and 55; Oct. 1994, pp. 32-35; and Dec. 1994,
pp. 20, 22, 24, 26, and 28.
The poultry industry early developed in the rural South where land was relatively cheap and
water, a prime requirement for meat packing and poultry processing, was relatively plentiful. As
with beef packing, low-wage labor with a union-free environment seems to have been an
In the 1960s, many rural workers lacked marketable skills. More traditional family farming, for
many, no longer offered significant employment and, thus, the “superfluous labor” of farming
communities became available for processing plants and for “part-time labor on the grow-out 27
farms.” Some suggest that the industry had concentrated in right-to-work states in an effort to 28
minimize labor costs and had systematically developed a low-wage strategy.
Plants are described as operating on a two-tier labor system. On top are core workers: trained,
stable, with strong labor market attachment, who keep the plants operating. They are
supplemented by a body of unskilled low-wage workers with a high turnover rate. The latter, it
appears, have low expectations, both with respect to living and working conditions, and may view
their employment as short-term. They are unlikely to complain or to join a union, especially if
they are not authorized residents. The two-tier system reportedly allows integration of new line 29
workers with little disruption.
The new breed packers and processors appear to have developed a workforce the demographics
of which are somewhat different from that of the older urban packers. There are fewer African-
American males and more Hispanic and Southeast Asian workers: often (but not always)
transient, low-skilled but hard-working, less assertive of their workplace rights than experienced
workers, and willing to work for low wages under conditions that may be adverse. But, conditions 30
vary from plant-to-plant and from one location to another.
In the 19th century, most butchering was conducted at the local retail level. With the rise of the
packing plants, a distinction was made between butchers, per se, and packinghouse workers; but
trade unionization focused on the butchers (craft workers) rather than packinghouse workers
27 Griffith, Hay Trabajo, p. 130.
28 Lourdes Gouveia and Donald D. Stull, “Dances with Cows: Beefpacking’s Impact on Garden City, Kansas, and
Lexington, Nebraska,” in Donald D. Stull, et al., Any Way You Cut It: Meat Processing and Small-Town America
(Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995), p. 103. See also Greig Guthey, “Mexican Places in Southern Spaces:
Globalization, Work and Daily Life in and around the North Georgia Poultry Industry,” in Arthur D. Murphy, et al.,
eds., Latino Workers in the Contemporary South (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2001), p. 63.
29 Griffith, Hay Trabajo, p. 146; and Donald D. Stull, et al., Any Way You Cut It: Meat Processing and Small-Town
America (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995), p. 8. (Hereafter cited as Stull, et al., Any Way You Cut It.)
30 In general, see Griffith, Jones’s Minimal. Leon Fink, The Maya of Morganton: Work and Community in the Neuvo
New South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), provides a case study of labor supply and labor-
management relations in a small North Carolina town. (Hereafter cited as Fink, The Maya of Morganton.)
The late 19th century witnessed a number of attempts by workers in the packing industries to
organize. Generally, their efforts were without success. In 1894, during the Pullman (American 31
Railway Union) strike, packinghouse workers engaged in a sympathetic walkout. When the rail
strike was broken, the packinghouse workers were replaced “from among the thousands of 32
unemployed workers who crowded the yards, anxious to take any job they could get.” Other
strikes would follow.
At first, the packers had hired “recent immigrants from eastern Europe”—but, then, they began to 33
use African-Americans—at first as strikebreakers and, less often, as regular workers. In so
doing, explains Alma Herbst, the packers “tapped an almost inexhaustible supply of cheap labor” 34
and secured a workforce more resistant to unionization than were the European immigrants.
While the “majority of the strikebreakers were white,” the “Negro, because of his color, attracted
more than his share of hostility and was associated by many packinghouse workers with the 35
collapse of the strike[s].”
The labor force was divided, roughly, into two groups: retail butchers and packinghouse workers.
Among the latter was a hierarchy of sub-crafts. Workers in the packing houses, where unions 36
were formed, had “invariably unionized along narrow craft lines” in the 1880s and 1890s. But
skill was coming to count for “less and less” and “[s]pecialization was making the employment of 37
cheaper labor possible.” Recalcitrant workers could quickly be replaced—and both management 38
and the workers knew it.
In 1896, American Federation of Labor (AFL) president Samuel Gompers called a national
convention of butchers. On January 26, 1897, a charter was issued to the Amalgamated Meat
Cutters and Butcher Workmen of North America. Michael Donnelly of Omaha was elected 39
31 Brody, The Butcher Workmen, p. 13. See also Ken Fones-Wolf, “Eight-Hour and Haymarket Strikes of 1886,” in
Ronald Filippelli, editor, Labor Conflict in the United States (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1990), pp. 164-169.
32 Walter A. Fogel, The Negro in the Meat Industry (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1970), p. 19.
(Hereafter cited as Fogel, The Negro in the Meat Industry.)
33 Ibid., p. 19.
34 Alma Herbst, The Negro in the Slaughtering and Meat-Packing Industry in Chicago (Boston: Houghton Mifflin
Company, 1932), pp. 19-20. (Hereafter cited as Herbst, The Negro in the Slaughtering and Meat-Packing Industry.)
35 Fogel, The Negro in the Meat Industry, p. 19-20. Interpretation varies. See Sterling Spero and Abram Harris, The
Black Worker: The Negro and the Labor Movement (New York: Columbia University Press, 1931), pp. 264 ff.
(Hereafter cited as Spero and Harris, The Black Worker.); Horace R. Cayton and George S. Mitchell, Black Workers
and the New Unions (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1939), pp. 228 ff.; and William M. Tuttle,
Jr., “Labor Conflict and Racial Violence: The Black Worker in Chicago, 1894-1919,” in Milton Cantor, ed., Black
Labor In America (Westport, CT: Negro Universities Press, 1969), pp. 88-89. (Hereafter cited as Tuttle, Labor Conflict
and Racial Violence.)
36 Brody, The Butcher Workmen, p. 15.
37 Spero and Harris, The Black Worker, p. 264.
38 Brody, The Butcher Workmen, p. 15.
39 Ibid., pp. 17-33; Gary M. Fink (ed.), Labor Unions (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1977), p. 216 (Hereafter cited
The Amalgamated moved into Chicago in 1900 and began organization of packinghouse workers
still demoralized from the strikes of the 1890s. The union faced a number of challenges. The
companies had adopted a systematic approach of de-skilling packing jobs: segmenting the work
process so that less expensive workers could be hired, given partial training, and engaged (when
needed) as replacement workers for those with somewhat greater skills. Though a rational policy
from the perspective of industry, it complicated the efforts of the union to recruit and hold 40
members. At the same time, by careful recruitment, the packers were able to shift dominance
from one racial/ethnic faction to another—and to stir tensions between male and female 41
These management-enhanced divisions within the workforce convinced some workers of the need
for industrial (cross-craft) organization. All workers would have to be organized if the
Amalgamated were to succeed; but, even so, solidarity—across racial, ethnic, gender and skill 42
lines—would be difficult to achieve.
Organizationally, the “great prize,” according to Brody, was the packinghouse where large
numbers could be organized “in one swift stroke.” At the turn of the century, a little over 25,000
workers were employed in Chicago’s stock yards, about a third of those employed in the industry
nationally. Donnelly set out to organize the workers and to instruct them in trade union strategy.
The skilled craft workers were the first organized and remained the core of the union. The union
sought out the immigrant worker and actively courted African-American workers (about 500 then 43
employed in the yards)—and the latter “hesitantly joined” the ranks of organized labor.
Organization, alone, did not erase the workers’ grievances. Increasing line speed was a concern—th
as it would continue to be through the rest of the 20 century. Jurisdictional issues arose. Hours of
work, often irregular, and seasonal disparities in employment continued as a source of discontent.
Wage considerations were always an issue. “Under any circumstances, it would have been
difficult to control the untutored and excited mass of packinghouse men,” Brody notes, but “...
discontent was stirred by Donnelly’s cautious negotiating policy ... benefits came too slowly and 44
as Fink, Labor Unions); and Carl W. Thompson, “Labor in the Packing Industry,” The Journal of Political Economy,
Feb. 1907, pp. 96-97.
40 Tuttle, Labor Conflict and Racial Violence, p. 90. See also Stull and Broadway, Slaughterhouse Blues, pp. 34-35.
41 See, inter alia, Selig Perlman and Philip Taft, History of Labor in the United States, 1896-1932 (New York:
Augustus M. Kelley, Publishers, 1966), vol. IV, p. 118; Fogel, The Negro in the Meat Industry, p. 18; Edith Abbott,
and S. P. Breckinridge, “Women in Industry: The Chicago Stockyards,” The Journal of Political Economy, Oct. 1911,
pp. 649-651, and 639; and Rick Halpern and Roger Horowitz, Meatpackers: An Oral History of Black Packinghouse
Workers and Their Struggle for Racial and Economic Equality (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1996), p. 6. (Hereafter
cited as Halpern and Horowitz, An Oral History.)
42 See James R. Barrett, “Immigrant Workers in Early Mass Production Industry: Work Rationalization and Job Control
Conflicts in Chicago’s Packinghouses, 1900-1904,” in Hartmut Keill and John B. Jents, eds., German Workers in
Industrial Chicago, 1850-1910: A Comparative Perspective (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1983), pp.
43 Brody, The Butcher Workmen, p. 34 and 41. For an overview of race and unionization, see Walter Fogel, “Blacks in
Meatpacking: Another View of The Jungle,” Industrial Relations, Oct. 1971, pp. 338-353.
44 Brody, The Butcher Workmen, pp. 47-48.
On July 12, 1904, over Donnelly’s reservations, the union struck. The weakness of the
Amalgamated—internal dissension and lack of discipline—was quickly exposed. Again, industry
imported black strikebreakers; and, as might have been anticipated, violence broke out—with the
strikebreakers frequently the object of attack. With the union financially strapped, Donnelly
sought accommodation—and was rebuffed. Intervention by Jane Addams (a Chicago social
worker) and her associates brought an end to the strike, but the men were granted no concessions 45
from the packers. The union was largely fragmented and, in 1907, Donnelly resigned and left 46
the movement. For a decade, few victories appear to have been achieved by the Amalgamated.
In 1917, the United States entered the European war. Immigration, the traditional source of
packinghouse labor, declined. The draft further reduced manpower availability. Labor shortages
were accompanied by a heightened demand for meat—and the Amalgamated rebounded—but
under federal wartime regulation. The war years also sparked a northward migration of southern
blacks who, in significantly increased numbers, took jobs in the packing plants. Brody states that,
by some estimates, “90 percent of the northern Negroes in the Chicago yards carried union
cards.” (Italics added.) But the newcomers, like immigrant groups before them, proved difficult to
organize and, once in the union, to retain. By the end of the war, late in 1918, some 10,000 black 47
workers were employed in the yards—“over 20 percent of the labor force.”
The post-war period, however, did not bode well for unions. The Chicago race riots (1919) added 48
to tensions between black and white workers. Then, internal union discord broke out. By 1921,
the treasury of the Amalgamated was depleted. Wartime restraints vanished. Unemployment
became widespread. Union membership shrank. So, in the dead of winter, in an effort to rebuild 49
and regain its strength, the Amalgamated called a nation-wide strike. Within weeks, on February
representation of local retail butchers.
45 Ibid., p. 58. See John R. Commons, “Labor Conditions in Meat Packing and the Recent Strike,” The Quarterly
Journal of Economics, Nov. 1904, pp. 1-32. (Hereafter cited as Commons, Labor Conditions.) Black strikebreakers had
also been used by the packers against the Packing House Teamsters in 1902. See Howard B. Myers, “The Policing of
Labor Disputes in Chicago: A Case Study,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1929, pp. 347-366 (Hereafter
cited as Myers, Labor Disputes); James R. Barrett, Work and Community in the Jungle: Chicago’s Packinghouse
Workers, 1894-1922 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987), pp. 118-187, (Hereafter cited as Barrett, Work and
Community); Barrett, “Unity and Fragmentation: Class, Race, and Ethnicity on Chicago’s South Side, 1900-1922,”
Journal of Social History, fall 1984, p. 50, (Hereafter cited as Barrett, Unity and Fragmentation); and David Witwer,
“Race Relations in the Early Teamsters Union,” Labor History, Nov. 2002, pp. 505-532.
46 Myers, Labor Disputes, pp. 532-533; and Brody, The Butcher Workmen, pp. 59-74.
47 Brody, The Butcher Workmen, p. 85. See also William C. Pratt, “Advancing Packinghouse Unionism in South
Omaha, 1917-1920,” Journal of the West, Apr. 1996, pp. 42-49.
48 Barrett, Unity and Fragmentation, p. 43, states: “While white butcher workmen had little to do with the attacks on
Blacks, the riot ended any prospect of creating an interracial labor movement in the Yards for more than a generation.”
49 Barrett, Work and Community, pp. 257-259.
50 Ibid., pp. 258-259; Roger Horowitz, “‘It Wasn’t a Time to Compromise’: The Unionization of Sioux City’s
Packinghouses,” The Annals of Iowa, fall 1989/winter 1990, p. 253 (Hereafter cited as Horowitz, ‘It Wasn’t a Time to
Compromise’); and Rick Halpern, Down on the Killing Floor: Black and White Workers in Chicago’s Packinghouses,
1904-1954 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997), p.71. (Hereafter cited as Halpern, Down on the Killing Floor.)
William C. Pratt, in “Divided Workers, Divided Communities: The 1921-22 Packinghouse Strike in Omaha and
Nebraska City,” Labor’s Heritage, winter 1994, p. 56, reports that Nebraska employers used “many African Americans
as replacements during the strike” and attempted to secure Mexican-American strikebreakers as well. (Hereafter cited
as Pratt, Divided Workers.)
By the 1930s, workers in meat packing had suffered defeats in a series of strikes: in 1894, 1904
and 1921-1922. The conflicts had been demoralizing and had left the packinghouse side of the
union in shambles.
The Depression of 1929 hit the packinghouse industry hard and “... opened a period of social 51
ferment in which radical ideas received a wide and sympathetic hearing.” “With hundreds at the
gate begging for jobs, managers could select whom to employ as their whims or prejudices
dictated.” And, some managers, it appears, exacted retribution against workers who had been 52
engaged in strike activity or now attempted to organize.
Ethnic/racial diversity still prevailed in the plants; but, now, these were often workers of a second
generation. (See Table 1.) In their continuing search “for cheap labor,” the packers looked “to 53
Chicago’s expanding Afro-American community”; but, these were people who had migrated
north during World War I, had become acculturated to the industrial workplace, and were more 54
supportive of unionization. By the 1930s, they had become “a permanent component of the
labor force” and, some argued, “provided the [union] organizing drive with its backbone ...[,] 55
dynamism” and “key leadership.”
Table 1. Racial and Nationality Trends Among Slaughtering and Meat-Packing
Workers in Chicago, 1909 and 1928
Race Number Percent Number Percent
White 2,031 18.9 3,604 27.3
Black 459 3.0 3,894 29.5
51 Roger Horowitz, “Negro and White, Unite and Fight!”—A Social History of Industrial Unionism in Meatpacking,
1930-1990 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997), p. 67. (Hereafter cited as Horowitz, Negro and White.)
52 Rick Halpern, “The Iron Fist and the Velvet Glove: Welfare Capitalism in Chicago’s Packinghouses, 1921-1933,”
Journal of American Studies, Aug. 1992, pp. 161, 164-165. (Hereafter cited as Halpern, The Iron Fist.) On labor-
management during the 1930s, see Irving Bernstein, The New Deal Collective Bargaining Policy (Los Angeles:
University of California Press, 1950); and Jerold S. Auerbach, Labor and Liberty: The La Follette Committee and the
New Deal (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1966).
53 Halpern, The Iron Fist, p. 165. Halpern (pp. 166-167) notes an increased number of black workers in “the semi-
skilled and skilled segment of the labour force.”
54 Shelton Stromquist, Solidarity & Survival: An Oral History of Iowa Labor in the Twentieth Century (Iowa City:
University of Iowa Press, 1993), p. 101. (Hereafter cited as Stromquist, Solidarity & Survival.)
55 Halpern, The Iron Fist, p. 162.
Race Number Percent Number Percent
Polish 4,293 27.7 1,570 11.9
Lithuanian 1,860 12.0 1,033 7.8
Mexican 1 N.A. 746 5.7
Source: Paul S. Taylor, Mexican Labor in the United States: Chicago, and the Calumet Region (Berkeley: University of
California Press, Mar. 31, 1932), p. 40. By 1928, the Poles, Lithuanians, and Mexicans were the three most
numerous nationality groups—with a wide scattering of other immigrants represented in smaller percentages.
Mexican workers began to appear in the meat packing industry of the Midwest during World War 56
I. After 1920, Horowitz notes, “the Mexican presence increased sharply.” Most appear to have
migrated from Mexico, rather than from other parts of the United States, having come north as
agricultural or track laborers (railroad maintenance of way). After brief periods at such work (or
in the steel mills), they migrated in the late 1920s “to other industries, particularly to meat-57
packing.” Robert A. Slayton, in his study Back of the Yards, observed that “... Mexicans entered
the packing plants gradually.” He continues: “In 1920, Swift & Company employed 97 Mexicans;
within a few years this figure rose to 217....” At Armour, during the period, 400 were employed—58
and 94 more were employed at Wilson & Company.
56 Horowitz, Negro and White, p. 62. Pratt, in Divided Workers, p. 52, notes that some 283 Mexicans were resident in
the Omaha area at the time of the 1921-1922 strike and that, at least on that occasion, the union printed strike ballots in
English, Polish, Lithuanian, Czech, and Spanish. Not all local residents of Mexican origin, of course, were employed in
the packing plants. See T. Earl Sullenger, “The Mexican Population of Omaha,” Journal of Applied Sociology, May-
June 1924, pp. 289-293.
57 Paul S. Taylor, Mexican Labor in the United States: Chicago and the Calumet R egion (Los Angeles: University of
California Press, Publications in Economics, 1932), vol. 7, no. 2, p. 41. There is some suggestion that Mexican workers
were engaged as strikebreakers at various times—but, also, that some struck alongside non-Mexican workers (see p. 34
and 45). Taylor states on p. 68: “So far as I could ascertain, Mexican laborers were not imported to Chicago by packing
plants.” There was a perception, Taylor suggests, that Mexican workers were more adaptable and “that they would
accept disagreeable work more readily than others, even than the Negroes.” (See pp. 87-88.)
See, also, Dionicio Nodin Valdes, Barios Nortenos: St. Paul and Midwestern Mexican Communities in the Twentieth
Century (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000), p. 25. (Hereafter cited as Valdes, Barios Nortenos.) Here, Valdes
divides early Mexican immigration to the Midwest into three periods: first, 1906-1910, “associated with railroad
companies already employing Mexicans in the Southwest”; second, 1916-1919, “linked to railroad and industrial
employer demands during the wartime economic boom and labor shortages that resulted from restricted immigration
from Europe”; and, third, 1920-1921 and after. He states, perhaps in contrast to Taylor: “The colonia in the Stockyards
district of Chicago appeared when employers seeking to break the packinghouse workers’ strike in 1921-1922 hired a
contingent of Mexicans.” Valdes states (p. 29): “Smaller numbers of Mexicans also found work in the packing plants of
Omaha, Kansas City, and Sioux City, Iowa. During the 1920s, packinghouses in South St. Paul offered the most
important urban employment available to Mexicans in the Twin Cities.” Immigrant attitudes toward organized labor, of
course, varied among individuals, localities, and over time. See also Zaragosa Vargas, Proletarians of the North: A
History of Mexican Industrial Workers in Detroit and the Midwest, 1917-1933 (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1993), pp. 80 and 90.
58 Robert A. Slayton, in Back of the Yards: The Making of a Local Democracy (Chicago: The University of Chicago
Press, 1986), seems to suggest the same view as Valdes. He notes on pp. 179-180 that “... five hundred Mexicans
arrived in 1921 and 1922” in the Back of the Yards neighborhood—though he does not specifically relate their arrival
to strikebreaking. He does, however, suggest: “Most of these jobs were made available to Mexicans during the 1921
strike, when the packers hired anyone they could find.”
In mid-1933, workers at Hormel (Austin, Minnesota) resolved to form a union. Under Frank Ellis, 59
a “long-time member of the IWW” (the Industrial Workers of the World), organization began.
Soon, the Independent Union of All Workers (IUAW) emerged—and organization spread 60
throughout Austin well beyond the packing plant. In September 1933, with Ellis at its head, the
IUAW won the right to bargain for the Hormel workers. After a brief lockout/strike, settlement
was reached laying the foundation for labor-management cooperation at the Austin-based firm.
The IUAW then “organized a network of affiliated unions and supporters in the midwestern
meatpacking industry” under the banner of industrial unionism. Gradually, its influence spread 61
through the upper midwest. But to sustain its position in Austin, the IUAW found that it would
need to organize the entire industry—a task beyond its strength. Thus, it reached out to other
independent unions such as the Cedar Rapids-based Midwest Union of All Packinghouse
Workers. In early 1936, these groups combined to form the Committee for Industrial Organization 62
in the Packing Industry (still independent but oriented toward the national CIO).
With passage of the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA, 1933), “[t]housands of American
workers rushed to join the unions of their trade, and where unions did not already exist, they
organized them.” But much of industry remained unorganized and AFL efforts, some felt, were
too tepid. In 1935, John L. Lewis of the United Mine Workers, with leaders of several other
international unions, formed the Committee for Industrial Organization, an “extralegal committee 63
organized to promote industrial unionism and to convert the AFL to that principle.”
The Amalgamated—half craft (retail butchers) and half-industrial—was the only AFL union
active in the packinghouse field. It was presided over by Patrick Gorman who, though he
understood the need for industrial organization, was also firmly rooted in the AFL. By late 1936,
the CIO entered negotiations with the IUAW-Cedar Rapids group and, soon thereafter, IUAW-
related entities began advertising themselves as affiliated with the CIO. Negotiations between
Lewis and Gorman followed but, ultimately, Gorman opted to remain with the AFL. In October
59 Horowitz, Negro and White, p. 64. Founded in 1905 (and anti-AFL), the IWW was, by the 1930s, organizationally
spent but still a strong intellectual force in portions of the labor movement. See, also, Peter Rachleff, “Organizing
‘Wall-to-Wall,’ The Independent Union of All Workers, 1933-1937,” in Shelton Stromquist and Marvin Bergman, eds.,
Unionizing the Jungles: Labor and Community in the Twentieth-Century Meatpacking Industry (Iowa City: University
of Iowa Press, 1997), pp. 51-74.
60 Larry D. Engelmann, “‘We Were the Poor People’—The Hormel Strike of 1933,” Labor History, fall 1974, p. 493.
(Hereafter cited as Engelmann, The Hormel Strike of 1933.)
61 Horowitz, Negro and White, p. 45; and Engelmann, The Hormel Strike of 1933, p. 509.
62 The IUAW was not affiliated with the Amalgamated—and not yet affiliated with the CIO. For other upper-midwest
organizing initiatives, see Farrell Dobbs, Teamster Rebellion (New York: Monad Press, 1972); and Philip A. Korth,
The Minneapolis Teamsters Strike of 1934 (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1995).
63 Fink, Labor Unions, pp. 65-66. The Committee would become the Congress of Industrial Organizations or CIO only
in May 1938. Here, keeping those dates in mind, both bodies will be referred to as the CIO.
64 Valdes, Barrios Nortenos, p. 167, states that Mexican packinghouse workers were “responsive” both to the Steel
Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC) and to the PWOC.
Industry raised strong opposition to the PWOC and organization was further complicated by
hostilities between the PWOC and the Amalgamated. Only in February 1940 did the PWOC
secure its first major contract. In 1943, in the context of World War II, the PWOC became the 65
United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA).
CIO organization of the packinghouse workers proved contentious. First. The emergence of the
UPWA, out of the Amalgamated, was not entirely clearly drawn. Some packinghouse workers
remained in the Amalgamated and, more broadly, there was the continuing clash (often bitter)
between the AFL and the CIO. Second. The IUAW had been of the local rank-and-file. Joining the
CIO jeopardized that tradition and entailed, Horowitz suggests, an alliance “with men and women 66
who were sociologically very different.” The top leadership of the PWOC (appointed, not
elected) was from outside the industry. While meat packers would come to play a leadership role,
some still viewed the national PWOC/CIO as too far removed from the line—and, perhaps, too 67
preoccupied with non-packinghouse matters. Third. There was a cultural shift. Ellis, out of the
IWW, “believed in union democracy, shop floor organization, direct action, an industrial 68
structure, and solidarity among all workers,” recalls Peter Rachleff. He states: the IUAW had
“demonstrated how to build a lively, democratic, militant labor movement, rooted in local control,
committed to horizontal solidarity. [But] ... had not found a way to keep this alive while building 69
a strong national organization able to control conditions in any given industry.”
The UPWA of 1943, Brody states, “failed to achieve the one-party rule characteristic of American
trade unions”—a failure some might view as positive. Under Ralph Helstein (an attorney: first
UPWA general counsel and, after 1946, president) and Ellis, the union would be politically liberal 70
and protective of the rights of various racial/ethnic and political minorities.
The new labor legislation of the 1930s and 1940s, some argue, tended to convert unions from
bodies of militants to part of the regulatory structure: weakening the role of the rank-and-file and
widening the gulf between workers and the union hierarchy. This thesis suggests that unions came
to act “less as advocates for their members than as buffers, mediating between capital and labor.”
The UPWA, some argue, may have been an exception. First. Its origins were strongly of the rank-
and-file. Second. There was a growing African-American component within the UPWA
concerned with civil rights and social justice. Third. “... acceptance of racial diversity translated 71
easily into tolerance of political diversity” (i.e., of a more left-of-center sort).
65 Walter Galenson, The CIO Challenge to the AFL: A History of the American Labor Movement, 1935-1941
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960), pp. 349-374. (Hereafter cited as Galenson, The CIO Challenge.)
66 Horowitz, Negro and White, p. 52. See also Galenson, The CIO Challenge, p. 360.
67 Galenson, The CIO Challenge, pp. 362 and 374.
68 Peter Rachleff, Hard-Pressed in the Heartland: The Hormel Strike and the Future of the Labor Movement (Boston:
South End Press, 1993) p. 28. (Hereafter cited as Rachleff, Hard-Pressed.)
69 Ibid., p. 42. Conversely, see Paul Street, “Breaking Up Old Hatreds and Breaking Through the Fear: The Emergence
of the Packinghouse Workers Organizing Committee in Chicago, 1933-1940,” Studies in History and Politics (1986),
70 Brody, The Butcher Workmen, pp. 226-227.
71 Halpern, Down on the Killing Floor, pp. 203-205.
Rank-and-file activism in the UPWA, Horowitz, states, resulted in an alliance of “black workers
and white progressives” that allowed the union “to expand its program of social unionism” into 72
“cooperation with the emerging civil rights movement.” As World War II commenced, many
Afro-Americans urged a “Double V” campaign: “for victory over fascism abroad and Jim Crow 73
at home.” Meanwhile, many white workers held that inter-racial solidarity was essential if 74
wages and working conditions were to be improved. The UPWA attacked discrimination both in
the shop and in the community and “consciously worked with and influenced community-based 75
organizations, especially local branches of the NAACP....” After 1943, the UPWA negotiated
anti-discriminatory provisions in its new national agreements.
During the war, controls had kept wage rates relatively stable even in the face of inflation. Since
the UPWA was a party to a national no-strike pledge, there was little opportunity for more direct
labor-management activity. With the end of the war, however, pressure mounted. In late 1945, the
UPWA began to map a strategy for a wage increase—with some measure of cooperation from the
Amalgamated. When, in January 1946, the packers refused the union’s wage demands, a strike 76
was called that was immediately effective. Ten days into the strike, President Truman, still
operating under wartime emergency procedures, seized the plants and ordered work to resume.
The union declined, demanding that government guarantee enforcement of any settlement
reached through a board of inquiry. The Administration agreed and, while the locals were not 77
wholly satisfied, the settlement provided a wage increase.
From across the industrial spectrum, management turned to Congress; and, in 1947, the Taft-
Hartley Act was passed. It imposed significant new restraints upon trade union activity and, inter
alia, required union officials to file non-communist affidavits if their unions were to avail
themselves of the services of the National Labor Relations Board. For some of the CIO unions
(like the UPWA) with a left-of-center leadership component, the requirement had a serious 78
impact. First. In effect, it placed the government on the side of the more conservative factions
within the union. Second. It deprived these unions, it was argued, of some of their most talented
leaders. Third. Where the affidavit requirements were not complied with (and the UPWA initially
refused to do so), the NLRB refused to certify the union for collective bargaining purposes.
72 Horowitz, Negro and White, p. 145.
73 Halpern, Down on the Killing Floor, p. 213.
74 Fogel, The Negro in the Meat Industry, pp. 68-69.
75 Halpern and Horowitz, An Oral History, p. 20. Ray Marshall, in The Negro and Organized Labor (New York: John
Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1965), p. 179, observed: “No union operating in the South has followed a more militantly
equalitarian racial position than the UPWA.” Fogel, The Negro in Meat, p. 70, would add: “That same statement
[Marshall’s] applies equally well to the North.” See Rick Halpern, “Interracial Unionism in the Southwest: Fort
Worth’s Packinghouse Workers, l937-1954,” in Robert H. Zieger, ed., Organized Labor in the Twentieth-Century
South (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1991), pp.158-182. Halpern presents a somewhat more
complicated picture. Bruce Fehn, “‘The Only Hope We Had’: United Packinghouse Workers Local 46 and the Struggle
for Racial Equality in Waterloo, Iowa, 1948-1960,” The Annals of Iowa, Summer 1995, pp. 185-216; discusses the
campaign for civil rights undertaken by the Packinghouse Workers union.
76 Brody, The Butcher Workmen, p. 228.
77 Horowitz, Negro and White, pp. 168-170.
78 Section 9(h) of the Taft-Hartley Act required, as a condition for utilization of the services of the Board, that there be
on file with the Board “an affidavit ... by each officer of such labor organization and the officers of any national or
international labor organization of which it is an affiliate or constituent unit that he is not a member of the Communist
Party or....” The requirement was repealed by Section 201(d) of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act
of 1959 (the Landrum-Griffin Act). See Charles O. Gregory, Labor and the Law (New York: W. W. Norton &
Company, Inc., 1961), pp. 438-442 and 573-575.
Fourth. Since the Amalgamated did comply, the stage was set for renewed competition between 79
At that juncture, the UPWA faced a new round of bargaining: this time, without the cooperation
of the Amalgamated. The union authorized a strike for February 1948—that some thought ill-
timed and ill-advised. Although “hard-fought,” it “lacked the unity and purpose which could keep 80
men out on the streets indefinitely.” In mid-May 1948, the union capitulated. Financially
weakened, its membership having dropped from about 100,000 to about 60,000, it “faced dozens
of legal cases arising out of picket line violence, as well as the danger of losing NLRB
certification at many plants because of election petitions” filed by competing unions. The debate 81
over non-compliance with Taft-Hartley had come to an end.
Through the war years, the Amalgamated and the UPWA (like the AFL and the CIO—to which
they were respectively affiliated) had remained at odds. The unions were divided by philosophy:
craft versus industrial unionism. They had different approaches to the new regulatory structure—
notably, to alleged bias of the NLRB. There was disagreement concerning the political role of
unions and where, along the political spectrum, the unions should stand. Most difficult, however,
may have been conflicts rooted in personal hostilities dating from PWOC days.
While the UPWA was advancing the cause of social unionism, a new element was emerging on
the scene: the decline of the old packing firms and emergence of the new breed of packers.
Slowly, Brody states, it “became apparent to both unions,” the UPWA and the Amalgamated, that 82
cooperation would be mutually beneficial. But, he suggests: “The past was ... not easy to 83
exorci se .”
The new firms, emerging during the 1950s and 1960s, “took large chunks of the market away 84
from the old dominant companies.” Technology changed as well and, with it, what the
packinghouse workers actually did. Where employment once had been stable, the new breed
firms accepted rapid employee turnover and structured to accommodate it. Urban-to-rural
transition also meant that fewer African-American workers, a major segment of UPWA 85
membership, would remain in the industry’s workforce. With its base shrinking, the UPWA
changed its name to the United Packinghouse, Food and Allied Workers (1960) and reached out
79 Horowitz, Negro and White, pp. 182-183. See R. Alton Lee, Truman and Taft-Hartley: A Question of Mandate
(Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1966); and Arthur F. McClure, The Truman Administration and the
Problems of Postwar Labor, 1945-1948 (Rutherford: NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1969).
80 Brody, The Butcher Workmen, p. 233.
81 Horowitz, Negro and White, pp. 188-189. An accurate assessment of the strike appears clouded by rhetoric. See
Halpern and Horowitz, An Oral History, p. 19; Brody, The Butcher Workmen, p. 235; and Bruce Fehn, “Ruin or
Renewal: The United Packinghouse Workers of America and the 1948 Meatpacking Strike in Iowa,” Annals of Iowa,
fall l997, pp. 349-378.
82 Brody, The Butcher Workmen, pp. 219-220. Through the period, the National Brotherhood of Packinghouse Workers
(the Swift union) would maintain its independent status.
83 Brody, The Butcher Workmen, pp. 238-239.
84 Horowitz, Negro and White, p. 247.
85 Fogel, The Negro in the Meat Industry, pp. 1-2, 5, and 8; and Donald D. Stull, “‘I Come to the Garden’: Changing
Ethnic Relations in Garden City, Kansas,” Urban Anthropology, winter 1990, p. 314.
to new groups to organize. But, the “unrelenting drumbeat of plant closings placed a financial 86
squeeze on the organization that made its rebuilding strategy impossible to sustain.” Mergers
within the trade union movement had become a common response to shifts in industry and/or
technology. In late 1967, UPWA leaders approached the Amalgamated; in 1968, a formal merger
The merger may not have been a perfect fit. The UPWA gave way to the Amalgamated nearly six
times its size. Gorman remained at the helm: Helstein became “a titular vice president but without
any responsibilities.” Service units, regarded as vital within the UPWA, were disbanded. New
units, subsumed into larger bodies, some suggested, were underfunded and unable to pursue
normal/prior responsibilities. Some from the UPWA found it difficult to work within the new
structure. Lines of communication were broken up. Much of the freedom and rank-and-file
democracy, to which the UPWA locals had been accustomed, was said to have disappeared.
Perhaps most important, the merger had occurred in the context of the restructuring of the
industry. New breed packers were assembling a workforce quite different from that associated
either with the UPWA or with the Amalgamated—and one increasingly devoid, perhaps by
careful personnel selection, of trade union consciousness. The merged union had to reach out to a 87
workforce neither accustomed to trade unionization nor predisposed toward organized labor.
In 1977, Patrick Gorman stepped down from leadership of the Amalgamated. Faced with a power 88
vacuum and a general decline, the union sought yet another merger. The Retail Clerks
International Union (RCIU) seemed a likely candidate. In 1979, the two merged as the United
Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).
The RCIU, a craft union chartered by the AFL in 1890, was neither activist nor especially
successful. By 1933, it had a membership of about 5,000. “The RCIU was hampered by a timid,
conservative leadership either unwilling or unable to take advantage of the organizing 89
opportunities” of the New Deal era. Then, in the mid-1940s, a new leadership assumed control
and, largely based upon supermarket employment, the membership of the RCIU expanded rapidly
making it one of the largest unions in the AFL.
There had been a long—not always harmonious—relationship between the RCIU and the
Amalgamated. Their members often worked within the same firm and building: one union 90
representing the sales staff; the other, meat cutters. Arguments were “almost endless.” But the
conflicts involved the retail butchers—not packinghouse workers. At mid-century, however,
conditions began to change as meat (with poultry and fish) came into the markets pre-packaged—
largely eliminating the need for skilled butchers and replacing them with food handlers. Disputes
86 Horowitz, Negro and White, pp. 257-258.
87 Ibid., pp. 258-261. See also Fink, Labor Unions, p. 218; and Rachleff, Hard-Pressed in the Heartland, pp. 56.
88 Horowitz, Negro and White, p. 264.
89 Fink, Labor Unions, p. 329.
90 Martin Estey, “The Retail Clerks,” in Albert A. Blum, et al., White Collar Workers (New York: Random House,
1971), pp. 48 and 56.
continued as “the increasingly industrial structure of retailing” shifted work from butchers to 91
When the Amalgamated and the RCIU merged in 1979 becoming the UFCW, the new union had
an initial membership of 1.2 million: 525,345 members of the Amalgamated and 699,057 from 92
The merger may have made sense for the old Amalgamated (pre-1968) and the RCIU. Whether it
was similarly advantageous for the remnants of the UPWA remained an issue. The UPWA now
“represented less than 10 percent of the UFCW membership.” Institutionally, it was the retail
clerks who would dominate the new union—and they had “even less experience with industrial
unionism than the Amalgamated.” If the UPWA rank-and-file had felt somewhat isolated within
the post-1968 Amalgamated, that sense of distance may now have been compounded. UFCW
headquarters were in Washington, DC, far removed from the packing industry. William Wynn,
UFCW president, had joined the RCIU while in high school and had moved up through the union 93
hierarchy to become president in 1977.
“The 1980s,” suggests historian Peter Rachleff, “was arguably the bleakest decade in the entire 94
history of the U.S. labor movement.” Bleakness is clearly a relative concept: what is bleak for
labor may well be bright for industry.
Conditions, assert economists Charles Perry and Delwyn Kegley, “were nothing short of chaos
for the UFCW and for the industry.” It was a time of “Chapter 11 filings and the scrapping of
labor agreements, plant closings, strikes, lockouts, rebellious local unions, [and] corporate
campaigns....” Master agreements, a fixture in the industry since World War II, “virtually
disappeared, to be replaced almost entirely by individual plant bargaining.” The once high wages
in meat packing declined significantly. Old-line companies “were transformed and became
virtually unrecognizable.” Conglomerates that had acquired packing and processing companies
during the 1960s and 1970s “became disenchanted with the meat business and began divesting 95
themselves of those businesses in the 1980s.” Through it all, it was reported, there was “steadily 96
declining union strength.”
91 Michael Harrington, The Retail Clerks (New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1962.) pp. 70-73. (Hereafter cited as
Harrington, The Retail Clerks.)
92 Bureau of National Affairs, Daily Labor Report, June 4, 1979, p. A7-A8. (Hereafter cited as DLR.) See also DLR,
June 5, 1979, pp. A11-A12.
93 Horowitz, Negro and White, p. 265. Wynn continued as president of the UFCW until 1994, being succeeded by
Douglas Dority (1994-2004), and by Joseph Hansen (2004 ff.). See, also, John Breuggemann and Cliff Brown, “The
Decline of Industrial Unionism in the Meatpacking Industry ... 1946-1987,” Work and Occupations, Aug. 2003, pp. 336
and 348. The May 1999 issue of Labor History presents a “Symposium on Halpern and Horowitz: Packinghouse
Unionism.” See, also, Joe W. Trotter, “The Continuing Transformation of Labor and Working-Class History: A Review
Essay,” The Annals of Iowa, Winter 1999, pp. 78-86.
94 Rachleff, Hard-Pressed, p. 3.
95 Charles R. Perry and Delwyn H. Kegley, Disintegration and Change: Labor Relations in the Meat Packing Industry
(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989), pp. 165, 183, and 151. (Hereafter cited as Perry and Kegley,
The UFCW was sometimes viewed as a “labor conglomerate.”97 Within the UFCW, Horowitz
notes, the packinghouse workers became “a dwindling minority in large, multi-unit locals
covering entire states and headed by local union leaders who came from completely different 98
trades.” Increasingly, its focus seems to have shifted away from the individual plant as UFCW 99
leaders began “reorganizing locals into larger, amalgamated districts.” While consolidation,
arguably, may have been appropriate, it may also have created a situation in which packinghouse
workers felt divided from the UFCW’s national leadership.
In some measure, the climate of labor-management relations in America changed during the
Reagan/Bush era, Horowitz suggests, with the President’s “dismissal of striking air traffic
controllers in 1982” which, he states, “encouraged employers to resist the demands of labor
organizations.” It was a time of concession bargaining, give-backs, and the hiring of permanent
replacements for workers who struck. Coupled “with steadily declining union strength,” the 100
period, he argues, “would end in a catastrophe for American’s packinghouse workers.”
By 1980, with IBP and other new breed packers in control of a significant segment of the
industry, old firms argued “that production and employment at [their] plants would decline or
cease altogether unless local unions agreed to various cost concessions to help firms deal with the 101
low-cost competition.” Others hinted that work might be shifted to newer plants in remote
areas—that happened to be nonunion. Clearly, future bargaining would be fierce: potentially
involving strikes or lockouts—certainly loss of wages and possibly loss of employment.
Two options were at least theoretically available to the union: organize the nonunion firms and
bring their labor standards up to the level of those under the old master agreements; or, grant
concessions in terms of wages and/or work rules to the older union firms. Over the objections of
many packinghouse workers, it appears, the UFCW began concession bargaining in the early 102
Disintegration and Change.)
96 Horowitz, Negro and White, p. 266.
97 Perry and Kegley, Disintegration and Change, p. 116.
98 Horowitz, Negro and White, p. 247.
99 Warren, Struggling with “Iowa’s Pride”, p. 125. The issue of size and consolidation, in a later context, is discussed
by labor columnist Steven Greenhouse, New York Times, Nov. 10, 2004, p. A16, and Nov. 18, 2004, p. A24.
100 Horowitz, Negro and White, p. 266. Concerning the air traffic controller issue and its impact, see Willis J. Nordlund,
Silent Skies: The Air Traffic Controllers’ Strike (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1998); and Herbert R. Northrup, “The Rise and
Demise of PATCO,” Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Jan. l984, pp. 167-184.
101 Peter Cappelli, “Plant-Level Concession Bargaining,” Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Oct. 1985, pp. 92-93.
See also Audrey Freedman and William Fulmer, “Last Rites for Pattern Bargaining,” Harvard Business Review,
Mar./Apr. 1982, p. 31. (Hereafter cited as Freedman and Fulmer, Last Rites.)
102 Horowitz, Negro and White, p. 266. It was the firm view of the UFCW’s packinghouse segment, state Perry and
Kegley, Disintegration and Change, p. 182, that “wage concessions do not save plants but only buy a small amount of
time before the closing....”
The UFCW was confronted with demands for concessions.103 Under pressure, the union entered
upon a process of controlled retreat that “quickly disintegrated into a rout that not only lowered
wage rates ... but also shredded the master agreements and de-unionized the core firms of the 104
The industry side, however, was even more complex. While the union may have tended to react, it
was management that led. Some older family-owned and managed firms changed policy with
generational shifts in management. Some sold out. Others merged or, retaining their corporate
identity, were subsumed into larger entities. In some cases, corporate officers promoted splits and
spin-offs with new more focused firms emerging from older enterprises. Some, even very large
firms, were acquired by conglomerates—only to be sold again or simply closed as conditions
warranted. With each change of corporate control, there were usually changes in labor-
management policy—often with demands for concessions and, in some cases, with closings and
relocations of plants, consolidation of redundant facilities, and dismissal of superfluous workers.
Some observers believed this churning was purposeful beyond immediate profitability.
Management was able to dispose of union agreements, restructure work processes, and hire less
skilled (and cheaper) workers. It bargained with employment-desperate communities for 105
concessions: tax reductions, subsidies, and exemptions from local ordinances.
Increasingly through the late 20th century, restructuring was seem as part of a business strategy.
Both industry and the union had moved, in some measure, from the world of the creators to that
of the managers—albeit in somewhat different contexts.
A certain mutual distrust persisted: perhaps a mixture of hostility or disdain and, more important,
of indifference. Of industry, it was said, an “influx of executives who had never sliced a hog” had 106
led to management “that was alienated from the product and the workers.” Of labor, one
worker reportedly quipped: “Why do I need a union to negotiate a wage cut for me? I can do that 107
just fine for myself.”
103 Freedman and Fulmer, Last Rites, pp. 42 and 44.
104 Horowitz, Negro and White, p. 267. See Patrick Houston and Aaron Bernstein, “The Pork Workers’ Beef: Pay Cuts
That Persist,” Business Week, Apr. 15, 1985, p. 74 (Hereafter cited as Houston and Bernstein, The Pork Workers’
Beef.); and Horowitz, The Decline of Unionism, p. 35. Charles Craypo, The Economics of Collective Bargaining: Case
Studies in the Private Sector (Washington: The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc., 1986), p. 72, states: “By mid-1983
only one-third of the union’s members in meatpacking were still working under the master agreement, down from 55
percent when the 1981 concessions were made.”
105 Corporate restructuring has been enormously complex. See, for example Warren, Struggling with “Iowa’s Pride”;
Harold B. Meyers, “For the Old Meatpackers, Things Are Tough All Over,” Fortune, Feb. 1969, pp. 89-93, 134 and
136 (Hereafter cited as Meyers, Things are Tough All Over); Business Week, “The Slaughter of Meatpacking Wages,”
June 27, 1983, p. 71; Steve Bjerklie, “‘A Classic Tragedy’,” Meat & Poultry, Jan. 1995, pp. 44-45, 47-48, 51; Perry
and Kegley, “The Rath Experiment,” in Disintegration and Change, pp. 221-233; “Wilson Foods: Nine Days to
Chapter 11,” Business Week, May 30, 1982, pp. 68, 70, and 72; and Steve Kay, “Beef Woes Bedevil ConAgra,” Meat
& Poultry, June 1998, pp. 42, 45, 47-48. The literature is extensive.
106 McNaughton, “Like a Civil War Town,” Meat & Poultry, Sept. 1995, p. 51.
107 Rachleff, Hard-Pressed, pp. 11-12.
The essential elements of conflict between labor and management remained the same. While the
workers sought higher wages and improved conditions of work, industry was pursuing enhanced 108
profitability through a lower wage strategy. Consolidation would be paramount.
Contesting with Hormel. The Hormel case, perhaps, was the most dramatic of the packinghouse th
conflicts of the late 20 century. It was at Hormel that the Independent Union of All Workers
(IUAW) had been organized. The IUAW had, in some respects, provided the philosophical core
for the PWOC and, later, the UPWA. A strong labor tradition, it appears, remained among the
Hormel workers although relative labor-management peace seems to have prevailed after the
initial confrontation of the early 1930s.
Jay Hormel, son of the company’s founder, had negotiated the initial agreement with the IUAW.
But, Hormel, who enjoyed a reputation for enlightened labor-management relations, died in 1954.
Gradually, through attrition, new management had come to control the company which then
encompassed a number of plants spread over several states. Similarly, a new leadership had
emerged within the union.
By the mid-1970s, the original Austin, Minnesota, plant was old and in need of replacement; and,
after negotiations between management and the union, it was agreed that a new facility would be
built in Austin. The workers would make a number of concessions in order to assure its economic
viability. Certain work rules and production standards would be altered and the union accepted a 109
no-strike provision to last through three years from completion of the new plant.
Various factors led to collapse of the agreement. Protracted negotiations between Hormel, the
local union (Local P-9), and the UFCW, seem to have resulted in disagreement between Local P-9
and the international union (ultimately, with the AFL-CIO)—and in a contentious strike, the latter
commencing in August 1985. In May 1986, the UFCW’s Executive Committee imposed a
trusteeship on Local P-9 and settled the strike. The provisions accepted by the national UFCW
were, reportedly, “very close to the terms Hormel demanded” prior to the strike. It made no 110
provision for re-employment of workers still out when the strike ended.
With the end of the strike at Hormel (the mid-1980s), new officers took control of the local and
the labor-management relationship was resumed. But, the tone of that relationship appears to
have been quite different from that which preceded the strike and, some noticed, bitterness would 111
108 Data on wage rates, profitability, and related elements in this section are drawn from the cited published sources.
Further verification would require access to corporate records.
109 Perry and Kegley, Disintegration and Change, pp. 198-199. See also Marie McNaughton, “Like a Civil War,” Meat
& Poultry, Sept. 1995, p. 51; and Rachleff, Hard-Pressed, pp. 48-50.
110 DLR, May 12, 1986, pp. A2-A4. See also Rachleff, Hard-Pressed, pp. 52-60; Horowitz, Negro and White, pp. 271-
273; Jeremy Main, “The Labor Rebel Leading the Hormel Strike,” Fortune, June 9, 1986, pp. 105-106, 108-110;
Houston and Bernstein, The Pork Workers’ Beef, p. 76; and DLR, Dec. 24, 1984, pp. A1-A2; Feb. 2, 1986, A7-A9;
Mar. 17, 1986, pp. A10-A12, E1-E5; May 12, 1986, pp. A12-A13; and July 22, 1987, p. A4.
111 On the Hormel strike at large, see Marie McNaughton, “‘Like a Civil War Town’: Austin Minnesota, 10 Years
Later,” Meat & Poultry, Aug. 1995, pp. 56-62, and Sept. 1995, pp. 50-64; Dave Hage and Paul Klauda, No Retreat, No
Surrender: Labor’s War at Hormel (New York; William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1989); and Hardy Green, On
Strike at Hormel: The Struggle for a Democratic Labor Movement (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990).
An Emerging Pattern. In 1960, the Monfort’s opened a packing plant in Greeley, Colorado. It was
a pioneering effort that originally operated on a union basis. Faced with increasing competition
from other new breed firms, Monfort sought, in 1979, “a three-year wage freeze and operational
changes.” A strike followed. In March 1980, the plant was closed—but reopened two years later 112
without a union contract. Some estimated that total labor costs would be reduced by 25%.
Monfort recovered, acquired ValAgri of Garden City, Kansas, and in 1987 merged into ConAgra:
soon to become “the second largest food-processing firm in the United States and the fourth 113
largest in the world.”
With the purchase of Singleton Seafood and Sea Alaska Products (1982), ConAgra had become 114
the “largest U.S. shrimp processor.” In 1984, Greyhound, which had acquired Armour in 1970,
sold the packing firm to ConAgra which reopened 17 plants that Greyhound/Armour had closed,
reportedly hiring a nonunion workforce. ConAgra also acquired Beatrice Foods and Swift
Independent Packing Company (SIPCO, spun off from Esmark, Inc., by a leveraged buy-out in 115
1981). Merging the corporate cultures of the several firms (and dealing with various executives
acquired in the process) proved to be a challenge. By the mid-1990s, ConAgra was itself in the 116
process of reorganization. The Omaha-based firm announced “plans to strengthen and improve
profitability by significantly reconfiguring 29 production plants and exiting or restructuring nine
smaller businesses.” A report in Meat & Poultry observed: “Those most immediately affected are 117
the 6,300 employees who will lose their jobs within the year.”
The process would be repeated by other firms. In 1979, Missouri Beef Packers (with IBP, one of 118
the early new breed firms) was acquired by Cargill and, in 1982, renamed Excel. Based in
Wichita, Kansas, Excel would lease (1987) a plant in Ottumwa, Iowa, that Hormel had closed
and, within “a few days of its closing,” reopen it reportedly with a two-tier pay system: “$5.50 119
per hour for new workers and $6.50 for workers with Hormel experience.” Again, in 1982,
Rodeo Meats, a Morrell subsidiary, closed its Arkansas City, Kansas, plant but reopened it nine
months later “as Ark City Packing Company, offering wages at $5 an hour instead of the previous
union wage of $11 an hour.” During the same period, IBP bought an Oscar Mayer plant in Perry,
Iowa, and reopened it reportedly at “a starting wage of $5.80 an hour ... nearly $4.00 less than 120
Oscar Mayer’s starting wage.”
112 “Monfort: A Meatpacker Tries a Comeback by Trimming Labor Costs,” Business Week, Mar. 15, 1982, pp. 52 and
54. Perry and Kegley, Disintegration and Change, p. 155, state that the reopened plant went from “a former base rate
of $7.98 per hour to $5.00 per hour.”
113 Andreas, Meatpackers and Beef Barons, pp. 42-43.
114 Michael J. Broadway, “From City to Countryside: Recent Changes in the Structure and Location of the Meat- and
Fish-Packing Industries,” in Stull, et al., Any Way You Cut It, p. 23. (Hereafter cited as Broadway, From City to
115 Craypo, Strike and Relocation, p. 189; “Meatpackers that Bounced Back,” Business Week, Aug. 16, 1982, p. 103;
“The Slaughter of Meatpacking Wages,” Business Week, June 27, 1983, p. 71; Horowitz, The Decline of Unionism, p.
35; and Andreas, Meatpackers and Beef Barons, p. 43.
116 Steve Kay, “Beef Woes Bedevil ConAgra,” Meat & Poultry, June 1998, pp. 42, 45, 47-49. See Mark Ivey, “How
ConAgra Grew Big—and Now, Beefy,” Business Week, May 18, 1987, pp. 87-88.
117 Valerie Freeman, “ConAgra Restructures,” Meat & Poultry, June 1996, p. 12.
118 Based in Minneapolis, Cargill is “an international processor, marketer and distributor of agricultural, food, industrial
and financial products.” Excel is a “wholly owned subsidiary” of Cargill. See http://www.excelmeats.com/about/
history.htm and http://www.cargill.com.
119 Warren, Struggling with “Iowa’s Pride,” p. 128.
120 Broadway, From City to Countryside, p. 22-23. See also DLR, June 3, 1981, pp. A5-A8; Sept. 15, 1982, pp. A4-A5;
The Case of Storm Lake Packing. In 1935, Storm Lake Packing opened in Storm Lake, Iowa. For
nearly 20 years, it served the local community becoming Hygrade Food Products in 1953. In
1978, in the context of restructuring, Hygrade “announced the plant would close permanently” if
the UFCW “did not accept contract concessions.” The workers refused but the plant remained
Two years later, Hygrade again demanded concessions. Once more, plant management and the
union worked out a compromise; but, this time, Hygrade’s parent company, Hanson Industries,
demurred. Negotiations continued with the city, heavily dependent on the packing plant, offering
concessions. “In October , Hygrade demanded a $3.00 per hour pay cut in all Hygrade
plants as a prerequisite for keeping the Storm Lake plant open. The UFCW refused...” and the
plant closed. As a result, “some 500 relatively high-wage unionized jobs that formed the
backbone of a stable local workforce” were lost, along with 50 management jobs. In April 1982,
IBP bought the Storm Lake facility, reopening it with what was, allegedly, a substantially reduced
wage structure. The new IBP plant was said to have operated with about a 10% monthly 121
Some Diverse Impacts. Relocation sites associated with restructuring varied. Most often, they
were small towns where the economic impact of a plant closing would be severely felt. In 1992,
for example, Morrell had closed its beef packing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, eliminating
400 jobs. Thus, when it threatened to close its pork processing plant in Sioux City, Iowa, in fall
1993 (with 1,300 jobs at issue), the threat was taken seriously. As closure neared (December
agreement with the union”—the plant remained open.
Again, in the early 1980s, General Host (which had bought Cudahy packing a decade earlier)
announced its decision to “get out of the meat processing business.” Closure was averted (and,
potentially, the loss of 1,500 jobs) when General Host sold four plants “to a management group.”
However, during an interim closure and reopening under a new name, “unionized production 123
workers [were] terminated” and a new wage structure imposed. The practice extended into 124
other segments of the industry—and to other regions—as well.
“If there was any remaining question over organized labor’s influence in the beef industry,” stated
IBP historian Jeffrey Rodengen, “the issue was put to rest in the early 1980s when a wave of
July 27, 1983, pp. A1-A3; Feb. 17, 1984, pp. A9-A11; Oct., pp. A2-A3; George Ruben, “Problems Continue in Meat
Processing Industry,” Monthly Labor Review, Sept. 1983, p. 40; and Steve Kay, “Merger Madness,” Meat & Poultry,
Mar. 2002, p. 21, 24-26.
121 Mark A. Grey, “Pork, Poultry, and Newcomers in Storm Lake, Iowa,” in Stull, et al., Any Way You Cut It, pp. 109-
113. (Hereafter cited as Grey, Pork, Poultry, and Newcomers.) See, also, Steve Bjerklie, “No Way Up? Pork, Poverty
and IBP in Storm Lake, Iowa,” Meat & Poultry, Sept. 1992, pp. 39-40, 42, 44, and 46; and Eric Hake and Martin King,
“The Veblenian Credit Economy and the Corporatization of American Meatpacking,” Journal of Economic Issues, June
2002, p. 497. (Hereafter cited as Hake and King, The Veblenian Credit Economy.) See, also, Grey’s “Turning the Pork
Industry Upside Down: Storm Lake’s Hygrade Work Force and the Impact of the 1981 Plant Closure,” The Annals of
Iowa, Summer 1995, pp. 244-259.
122 Donald Stull “Of Meat and (Wo)Men: Meatpacking’s Consequences for Communities,” The Kansas Journal of Law
& Public Policy, spring 1994, p. 116. (Hereafter sited as Stull, Of Meat and (Wo)Men.) Stull states that “the city’s
portion [of the settlement] alone is worth $l.3 million.” See, also, Strausberg, From Hills and Hollers, pp. 76-78.
123 Perry and Kegley, Disintegration and Change, p. 90.
124 Bob Hall, “Chicken Empires,” Southern Exposure, summer 1989, p. 17. (Hereafter cited as Hall, Chicken Empires.)
wage reduction swept through America’s packing houses.” He added: “This wage depression
represented packers’ efforts to bring wages down from among the highest in America to a level 125
more in line with the rest of industry.”
Plant closing, consolidation and/or restructuring inevitably affects workers. Similarly, however
justified in terms of efficiency, it also affects the communities from which a facility moves and
into which it relocates.
The Emergence of IBP. Among the new breed packers, Iowa Beef Processors may have had the
greatest impact upon the industry—and, thus, upon workers. From its beginnings in the early
union environment and it developed a low-wage strategy. “If we paid the base rate the union 126
wants,” an IBP official reportedly stated, “our whole program would fail.”
The first clash between IBP and the UPWA appears to have been at its Fort Dodge, Iowa, plant in 127
1965. The contest was relatively brief, ending with the intercession of Iowa’s Governor. More
critical was a 1969 contest, soon after the UPWA/Amalgamated merger. The union had won 128
certification to represent workers at the IBP flagship plant at Dakota City, Nebraska. A contract
would be more difficult to secure. With the plant structured to accommodate less-skilled workers, 129
the company “claimed the union was trying to force skilled rates for relatively unskilled jobs.”
A strike was called. IBP imported strikebreakers: some, it appears, “of Mexican descent recruited 130
from the Southwestern United States.” Violence erupted. Ultimately, the Amalgamated secured 131
a contract that “allowed IBP to keep its pay rates far beneath the master agreement levels.”
IBP may have been aware of philosophical and policy divisions within the union following the 132
UPWA/Amalgamated merger and it may have utilized them to its advantage. Then, in 1979, the
second merger occurred, producing the UFCW. By the 1980s, IBP (then owned by Occidental
Petroleum) “had become the pattern setter” in the industry both for operations in general and for 133
“wages and working conditions.” It still “operated union-free in ten of its thirteen plants.” Ever
watchful of the union, IBP built new facilities at Amarillo, Texas, and Emporia, Kansas, with the
125 Rodengen, The Legend of IBP, p. 122. Roger Horowitz, in Putting Meat on the American Table: Taste, Technology,
Transformation (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), p. 151, states that by the 1990s, “... labor
organizations had little power in the meat-processing industry.” Further: “Without labor organizations to exert upward
pressures on wages and to influence shop floor relations, workers had to accept companies’ terms or go elsewhere.”
126 The comment is attributed to Arden Walker, IBP vice president for industrial relations, quoted in Horowitz, Negro
and White, p. 261.
127 Rodengen, The Legend of IBP, pp. 41-42.
128 Ibid., pp. 47, and 59-60.
129 Perry and Kegley, Disintegration and Change, p. 136. See also Rodengen, The Legend of IBP, p. 60.
130 Rodengen, The Legend of IBP, p. 61.
131 Horowitz, Negro and White, pp. 262-263.
132 Ibid., pp. 262-263.
133 Craypo, Strike and Relocation, p. 188-190. See also “Meatpackers that Bounced Back,” Business Week, Aug. 16,
1982, p. 105; and DLR, Dec. 16, 1986, pp. A2-A3. IBP, acquired by Occidental Petroleum in 1981, was spun off in
stages commencing in 1987 and concluding in 1991. See Rodengen, The Legend of IBP, pp. 118, 137, and 148-150;
and Steve Kay, “Light at the End of the Tunnel?” Meat & Poultry, Jan. 1992, pp. 28-29, 31-32, 36, 38-40.
expectation, some contented, that the facilities could be played off against each other to limit the 134
strength of the union were further strikes to occur.
On an expansion course, IBP moved gradually from beef to pork and on to “pre-cooked pizza
toppings, taco fillings” and “a range of deli meat products.” Reasonably, it developed a tannery 135
processing leather goods. With passage of NAFTA, American packers moved into the Canadian
market. Cargill had bought Canada’s largest beef packing plant. In late 1994, IBP bought 136
Canada’s second largest beef packing plant. Simultaneously, it reportedly was developing a 137
joint venture with China “to raise, process and market hogs” to begin in 1997. In spring 1997,
IBP acquired Foodbrands America (Oklahoma City) for “$640 million and assumption of ... $348 138
The Growth and Development of Tyson Foods. Poultry had been largely a small farm operation
until World War II with production oriented mainly to local markets. In the mid-1930s, John
Tyson of Springdale, Arkansas, began trucking poultry to markets in Chicago and other
midwestern cities. Initially, he hauled poultry and produce for local growers; but, gradually, he
entered the business on his own. Tyson Feed and Hatchery was incorporated in 1947. By 1950, it 139
“was processing about 96,000 broilers a week.” The company went public in the early 1960s.
Serious expansion had commenced in 1963 with the purchase of Garrett Poultry of Rogers,
Arkansas. By 1977, Tyson had moved into pork production, acquiring facilities in North Carolina
and handling 7,500 hogs a week. In 1983, it purchased a Mexican food company (Mexican
Original) and moved into corn and flour tortilla products. In 1989, it acquired Holly Farms, then
the nation’s third largest poultry firm with interests in beef and pork: reportedly a $1.4 billion 140141
deal. In 1992, Tyson’s purchased Arctic Alaska Fisheries, Inc., and Louis Kemp Seafood; in
134 Horowitz, Negro and White, pp. 262-263. Freedman and Fulmer, Last Rites, p. 44, theorize that “fragmentation of
pattern bargaining” would allow management “more easily [to] shift production from plants that are on strike to plants
that are no longer part of a master agreement and therefore not on strike.”
135 Steve Kay, “IBP Leader Dictates His Vision of the Future: $20 Billion by 2001,” Meat & Poultry, July 1996, p. 18.
(Hereafter cited as Kay, IBP Leader Dictates.)
136 Patrick Gallagher, “IBP Invades Alberta,” Meat & Poultry, Jan. 1995, p. 12. The Canadian firm, Lakeside Farm
Industries, Ltd., was said to have annual sales of $500 million. See Kay, IBP Leader Dictates, p. 20. The meat and
poultry industry of Canada appears to have followed roughly the same pattern as that of the United States. See, for
example, Ian MacLachlan, Kill and Chill: Restructuring Canada’s Beef Commodity Chain (Toronto: University of
Toronto Press, 2001), p. 245-288; Michael J. Broadway, “Bad to the Bone: The Social Costs of Beef Packing’s Move
to Rural Alberta,” in Roger Epp and Dave Whitson (eds.), Writing Off the Rural West (Edmonton: The University of
Alberta Press, 2001), pp. 39-51; Leo Quigley, “Canadian-style Case Ready,” Meat & Poultry, Feb. 2002, pp. 30-36;
and Quigley, “Retail Ready: Canada West Scores with Case-Ready Programs,” Meat & Poultry, Feb. 2003, pp. 36-38.
137 Kay, IBP Leader Dictates, p. 24.
138 “IBP Acquires Foodbrands America; $20 Billion Vision Comes into Focus,” Meat & Poultry, Apr. 1997, p. 3.
Foodbrands, Meat & Poultry reported, “... processes pizza toppings, pizza crusts, burritos, stuffed pastas, breaded
appetizers, soups, sauces and side dishes as well as deli meats and processed beef, poultry and pork.”
139 For the history of Tyson Foods, see http://www.tysonfoodsinc.com.
140 Stephanie A. Forest, “Tyson Is Winging its Way to the Top,” Business Week, Feb. 25, 1991, pp. 57 and 60. See also
Steve Bjerklie, “Tyson’s New Speciality,” Mean & Poultry, June 1995, pp. 22-23.
141 Keith Nunes, “Chicken of the Sea,” Meat & Poultry,” July 1992, p. 9; and Kris Freeman, “‘Chicken and the Sea’:
What’s Tyson up to with Arctic Alaska and Louis Kemp?” Meat & Poultry, Mar. 1993, p. 16-17, 20 and 22.
By the late 1990s, IBP was considering various restructuring initiatives: possibly going private, a
leveraged buy-out, or another business arrangement. Instead, in 2001, Tyson acquired IBP 142
reportedly for $4.7 billion and became “the largest meat and poultry company in the world.”
By spring 2002, Tyson Foods had “proforma revenues of about $25 billion and more than 300 143
facilities and offices in 32 states and 22 countries.”
The combined company, it was said, would “provide an estimated 23 percent of the U.S. meat and
poultry supply while employing 120,000 people.” But, it would also have a “total debt of 144
approximately $5 billion” in 2002. And, it would be necessary to integrate two very large
companies and the component parts of each.
Labor Problems and Profit Margins. Despite sizeable expenditures by both IBP and Tyson Foods
(and, perhaps, because of them), the firms would be concerned with savings. “Put simply,”
observed analyst Nicholas Stein, “Tyson is struggling to find enough cheap, unskilled labor to
staff its processing plants.” Stein pointed to employee turnover, “between 40% and 100%
annually, meaning each of the company’s 83 plants needs between 400 and 2,000 new workers 145
every year.” IBP’s Bob Peterson considered automation. “IBP will save more than $50 million
because of automation this year ,” he stated. But, he conceded, “we will always have to 146
But, which people? The industry had been characterized as “difficult, dirty, and dangerous” with
employees struggling “to keep up with the production line.” The new breed restructuring had
brought with it a workforce that was paid relatively low wages and was subject to high rates of
turnover. “Increasingly,” Stein states, “both Tyson and IBP came to rely on immigrants—mainly
from Mexico and Central America.” (Southeast Asia was another source of low-wage labor for
the industry.) “By the late 1990s the Tyson work force was very heavily Hispanic—40% 147
according to Tyson, 60% or more according to union officials.”
142 Negotiations are summarized in Steve Kay’s, “We’re More than Chicken,” Meat & Poultry, Mar. 2001, pp. 48-51.
Figures vary somewhat. See also “Tyson Foods Shells Out Billions to Acquire IBP, Inc.,” Meat & Poultry, Jan. 2001,
143 “Tyson Plans ‘Value-Added,’” Nation’s Restaurant News, Apr. 1, 2002, p. 40. See also “Tyson Foods, Inc.,” Meat
& Poultry, Sept. 1998, p. 26; Nicholas Stein, “Son of a Chicken Man,” Fortune, May 13, 2002, pp.136-138, 140, 142,
144, 146 (Hereafter cited as Stein, Son of a Chicken Man); and Steve Kay, “Bob Peterson: The End of the Line,” Meat
& Poultry, Oct. 2001, p. 32. (Hereafter cited as Kay, The End of the Line.)
144 Steve Kay, “From IBP to ‘TyBP’: Will This Marriage Work?” Meat & Poultry, Dec. 2001, p. 26.
145 Stein, Son of a Chicken Man, p. 142.
146 Kay, The End of the Line, p. 36. Scott Kilman, “Moving On Up,” The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 25, 2004, p. R10,
reports: “Over the past three years, machines have replaced one-third of the jobs” at the Tyson chicken processing plant
at Noel, Missouri. Kilman adds that the plant “... now has about 800 workers earning about $9 an hour on average.
Some Tyson managers believe it will be possible to have a fully automated chicken plant within 15 years.” See also
Jane Kelly, “Perdue: New Processing Plant Is Strictly for the Foodservice Market,” Meat & Poultry, Dec. 1992, pp. 14-
15; Steve Kay, “Beef: The Next Generation,” Meat & Poultry, Jan. 2002, pp. 40-44; and “Tyson Continues Focusing
on Efficiencies,” Meat & Poultry, Dec. 2003, p. 3.
147 Stein, Son of a Chicken Man, p. 144. For a general survey of consolidations, see Jon K. Lauck, “Competition in the
Grain Belt Meatpacking Sector after World War II,” The Annals of Iowa, Spring 1998, pp. 146-159.
“We did what we had to do,” IBP’s Peterson reflects. “We are not unreasonable, but we are not
patient people, and we are not gentle.” The meat processing industry is highly competitive and,
like the economy at large, profit motivated. “We don’t want to be tough and ornery, but if you
want to be the best, and we are going to be the best, you need to have quality and consistency and 148
be the low-cost producer.”
Labor-management policy in the meat and poultry industry has not evolved by chance.149 For the
most part, it has been successful from industry’s perspective—but success has not been without
costs. Because of competition, firms have tended to seek the cheapest labor available that could
meet their needs: often, racial/ethnic minorities. Early in the century, employers pitted workers
against each other, separating them by nationality, religion, and culture in an apparent effort to 150
keep the cost of labor low and to prevent trade unionization. Through recent decades, waves of
Hispanics, Vietnamese, Laotians, and refugees from the Balkans have taken jobs in packing and 151
processing plants. Because of their social, economic, and, in some cases, immigration status,
they have willingly accepted hard, dirty, and sometimes dangerous work at low wages—at least in
the short term—as had other racial/ethnic minorities and new immigrant groups before them.
The movement of the packing industry to rural America (where the poultry industry was already
sited) brought to it a new workforce. What would be the nature of the new workforce? And how
would it be managed?
New breed packers, some have suggested, chose to relocate in rural areas and to recruit a
workforce locally. And, some pledged to do so in exchange for concessions from communities 152
eager for growth. Andy Anderson, co-founder of IBP, explained his vision of the new
148 Rodengen, The Legend of IBP, p. 193. The spring l996 issue of Culture & Agriculture has a collection of essays by
academic and public policy writers dealing with the varied impacts of the meatpacking and poultry processing industry.
149 Rachleff, in Hard-Pressed, p.10, states that by the early 1980s, employers “were buttressed by the emergence of a
veritable industry of ‘management consultants’ who preached the virtues of a ‘union free’ environment.”
150 Stromquist, Solidarity & Survival, pp. 84-85. Concerning the general employment of racial/ethnic minorities and
immigrant workers, in addition to sources cited elsewhere in this report, see The Work Experience: Labor, Class, and
Immigrant Enterprise (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1991) and Unions and Immigrants: Organization and
Struggle (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1991), both edited by George E. Pozzetta. As case studies in two very
different settings, see also: Edward D. Beechert, Working in Hawaii: A Labor History (Honolulu: University of Hawaii
Press, 1985), and Allan Kent Powell, The Next Time We Strike: Labor in Utah’s Coal Fields, 1900-1933 (Logan: Utah
State University Press, 1985). There were, of course, different realities (and reactions, both from labor and from
employers) in every area and across time.
151 Stull and Broadway, “Killing Them Softly: Work in Meatpacking Plants and What it Does to Workers,” in Donald
D. Stull, et al., Any Way You Cut It, p. 62. (Hereafter cited as Stull and Broadway, Killing Them Softly.)
152 See, for example Mark A. Grey, “Pork, Poultry, and Newcomers in Storm Lake, Iowa,” in Stull, et. al., Any Way
You Cut It, pp. 113-115; Griffith, Hay Trabajo, pp. 132-133; Donald D. Stull and Michael J. Broadway, “The Effects of
Restructuring on Beef-Packing in Kansas,” Kansas Business Review, 14(1), 1990, p. 12; and David L. Ostendorf,
“Packinghouse Communities: Exploiting Immigrant Workers,” Christian Century, May 5, 1999, pp. 492-493.
(Hereafter cited as Ostendorf, Packinghouse Communities.)
workforce. “We’ve tried to take the skill out of every step,” Anderson explained to a Newsweek
reporter in early 1965. “We wanted to be able to take boys right off the farm and we’ve done 153
it.” Relocation and recruitment of boys (and girls) “right off the farm,” however, could have
collateral benefits for companies: i.e., escape from unionized urban labor markets with collective
bargaining, high wages, and existing work rules.
But, local recruitment—even for firms disposed to recruit locally—proved difficult. A new plant,
requiring hundreds of workers, could quickly exhaust the local labor supply. Thus, outside 154
recruitment was almost inevitable.
For an employer, hiring locally may not have been desirable. A successor firm, retaining a
predecessor’s workforce, could be inviting trouble—especially where the old firm had operated
under a union contract. Since some new breed firms sought to operate non-union and to pay low-
wages, a clash would be almost assured. Experienced employees would likely resist change. A
workforce of newcomers (new to the area and, perhaps, to the world of work) would allow greater 155
The demographics and character of the post-1960s meatpacking workforce seem to have differed
from that of mid-century. With unionization, the old workforce (prior to the 1960s) had shifted
from transient (largely immigrant) to greater stability: permanent residents with roots in the
community. There was also a shift from a mainly white workforce to one more heavily African-
American. Women had always worked in the packing industry; but, with new technology and 156
systematic de-skilling, they would come to be more widely employed.
Several changes in the relocated industry (poultry presents some exceptions) seem evident from
the literature dealing with the post-1960s era. First. The packinghouse workforce seems to have
become less black. There were few African-Americans in the rural midwestern communities to
which the industry migrated: few urban workers—either whites or African-Americans—appear to 157
have followed the migrating industry. Second. Increasingly packers (and, later, poultry
processors) began recruitment from outside the area of production: largely Southeast Asians and
Hispanics—but other immigrants as well. These recruits, often unfamiliar with American labor
law, lacked personal resources and community ties and, if unauthorized to be employed, were
vulnerable to exploitation. Third. Where these newcomers were from pre-industrial societies,
153 Newsweek, Mar. 8, 1965, p. 76.
154 See Warren, Struggling with “Iowa’s Pride”, pp. 128-129; and Robert A. Hackenberg, et al., “Creating a Disposable
Labor Force,” The Aspen Institute Quarterly, spring 1993, pp. 93-94. (Hereafter cited as Hackenberg, Creating a
Disposable Labor Force.) See also Steve Bjerklie, “The Tip of the Iceberg,” Meat & Poultry, Nov. 1992, p. 4.
155 See Craypo, Strike and Relocation, pp. 201-202; and Donald D. Stull and Lourdes Gouveia, “Dances with Cows:
Beefpacking’s Impact on Garden City, Kansas, and Lexington, Nebraska,” in Donald D. Stull, et al., Any Way You Cut
It, pp. 85-107. (Hereafter cited as Stull and Gouveia, Dances with Cows.)
156 Janet E. Benson, “The Effects of Packinghouse Work on Southeast Asian Refugee Families,” in Louise Lamphere,
et al., eds., Newcomers in the Workplace: New Immigrants and the Restructuring of the U.S. Economy (Philadelphia:
Temple University Press, 1994), pp. 103-104. (Hereafter cited as Benson, The Effects of Packinghouse Work.) The
value added product line (pre-cooked meals, case ready meats, etc.), though labor-intensive, requires less strength. See
also Barrett, Unity and Fragmentation, pp. 38-39.
157 See Fogel, The Negro in the Meat Industry, pp. 8 and 124. In “‘I Come to the Garden’: Changing Ethnic Relations in
Garden City, Kansas,” Urban Sociology, 1990, pp. 310-311, Stull discusses the Garden City packing industry in terms
of Anglos, Hispanics and Southeast Asians. He adds: “Blacks might be said to occupy a third rung on the social ladder,
but their population remains too small to be accorded a separate group status.” (Hereafter cited as Stull, I Come to the
they tended to be unfamiliar with unions and may have been uncomfortable with trade
unionization. Where they were transient, as many were, there was little incentive to think of long-158
term socio-economic advancement through organization. Fourth. Although African-Americans
have continued to be employed (in poultry processing, value added work, and the seafood
industry), they have tended to be working women. The urban-to-rural shift seems frequently to
have been both of race and gender: often from relatively highly paid black males to lower paid 159
black females. Fifth. The post-1960s workforce (the lower tier) appears to have been heavily 160
transient, whether in industrial or geographical terms—and, perhaps, both.
In general, the post-1960s lower tier workforce in packing and processing might be characterized
as unskilled, mobile, and sometimes lacking in strong labor-market attachment. These were
workers in whom employers had little invested, given the churning within the industry and the 161
nature of the drive for enhanced profitability.
Nicholas Stein in Fortune suggests that it is “difficult” to find workers for processing plants at $7 162
an hour “when they could earn the same or more at McDonald’s.” But for some, there may be
few options: i.e., economic necessity or time to learn English and to develop skills.
While the packing and processing industry is said to have a high rate of worker turnover, it may
not be entirely clear what is meant by turnover. Are seasonal workers, employed regularly year
after year, included in the concept? How about the part-time employee who works when demand
is sufficient—but who is not kept on the rolls through the intervening periods? And, when does
158 Benson states in “Households, Migration, and Community Context,” Urban Anthropology, spring-summer 1990, p.
25, that given “the dead-end nature” of line work, “few Southeast Asians expect to spend more than five years or so in
Garden City,” Kansas.
159 Fogel, The Negro in the Meat Industry, pp. 1-2, and 14. Broadway, From City to Countryside, pp. 36-37, states that
most workers in catfish processing are black women.
160 See Broadway, From City to Countryside, pp. 36-37; Ken C. Erickson, “Guys in White Hats: Short-Term Participant
Observation Among Beef-Processing Workers and Managers,” in Louise Lamphere, et al., Newcomers in the
Workplace (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994), p. 89 (Hereafter cited as Erickson, Guys in White Hats);
David Griffith, “Consequences of Immigration Reform for Low-Wage Workers in the Southeastern U.S.: The Case of
the Poultry Industry,” in Urban Anthropology, spring-summer 1990, pp. 165-173 (Hereafter cited as Griffith,
Consequences of Immigration Reform); Ken Lawrence and Anne Braden, “The Long Struggle,” Southern Exposure,
Nov./Dec. 1983, p. 86; and Steve Striffler, “Inside a Poultry Processing Plant: An Ethnographic Portrait,” Labor
History, Aug. 2002. (Hereafter cited as Striffler, Inside a Poultry Processing Plant.)
161 See Karen Olsson, “The Shame of Meatpacking,” The Nation, Sept. 16, 2002, p. 12; (Hereafter cited as Olsson, The
Shame of Meatpacking.); Griffith, Consequences of Immigration Reform, p. 156; Hackenberg, Creating a Disposable
Labor Force, pp. 78-79; Fink, The Maya of Morganton, p. 180; and Edna Bonacich, “A Theory of Ethnic Antagonism:
The Split Labor Market,” American Sociological Review, Oct. 1972, pp. 547-559.
162 Stein, Son of a Chicken Man, pp. 142-144. Fogel, The Negro in the Meat Industry, p. 18, argues that workers with
“skills and a moderate amount of formal education would not work in meat packing at common labor wages.” See also
Michael Broadway, “Meatpacking and Its Social and Economic Consequences for Garden City, Kansas, in the 1980s,”
Urban Anthropology, winter 1990, p. 323.
one become an employee for turnover calculation? When he or she accepts employment? Shows 163
up for work? Completes an orientation program?
Estimates of turnover are difficult to assess.164 Steve Kay of Meat & Poultry states: “No major
packer will disclose their current turnover rates”—which he estimates “may range from 50 165
percent to 70 percent for most large packers.” Again, what is included within an estimate may
not always be clear.
The impact of high turnover for employers varies from one observer to the next. Raoul Baxter,
Smithfield International, Inc., argues that new cuts of beef and products for the international
market “require the most skilled workers in the history of the meat industry.” Such skills require, 166
he states, “a three-month learning curve,”arguably making employee retention desirable. There
are also direct dollar costs associated with recruitment, training, and acclimation to the workplace
and to the specific tasks. Documentation of such costs appears to be somewhat elusive, but they 167
could be substantial.
During field research, Stull and Broadway asked an interviewee with wide experience in the
industry: “[D]o you think it pays the packer to turn over the workforce rapidly?” He replied: “It 168
must or he wouldn’t do it.”
Turnover rate is critical in assessing other aspects of the labor-management relationship. In a
carefully structured and highly competitive industry, high turnover may not be accidental. Some
would argue that worker retention may be neither desirable—nor profitable. “Ultimately, their
concern is not about a stable work force,” states Mark Grey of the University of Northern Iowa, 169
“but maintaining a transient work force.”
Since both poultry and beef processing have become extremely competitive, it may not be
surprising that firms would seek to cut costs wherever such economies are possible. A low wage
and often non-union workforce would seem, some suggest, a likely context for such cost-cutting.
163 There seems to be a relative high attrition rate early in the employment process when recruits learn what the work
involves. See Steve Kay, “The Nature of Turnover,” Meat & Poultry, Sept. 1997, p. 32. (Hereafter cited as Kay, The
Nature of Turnover.) See also Hackenberg, et al., Creating a Disposable Labor Force, p. 79.
164 See Jacqueline Nowell, “A Chicken in Every Pot: At What Price?” New Solutions, vol. 10(4), 2000, p. 329.
(Hereafter cited as Nowell, A Chicken in Every Pot.)
165 Kay, The Nature of Turnover, pp. 31-32. Kay states: “There appears to be no published data on labor turnover or the
cost to the industry as a whole.” See also Stull and Broadway, Slaughterhouse Blues, p. 80, for a discussion of turnover
rates in the industry.
166 Raoul Baxter, “Labor’s Role in Exports,” Meat & Poultry, Nov. 1997, p. 14.
167 See, for example, Kay, The Nature of Turnover, pp. 31-34; and Richard Alaniz, “Avoiding Rehiring Costs by
Retaining Good Employees,” Meat & Poultry, May 1999, p. 80.
168 Stull and Broadway, The Effects of Restructuring, p. 15. See also, Hackenberg, et al., Creating a Disposable Labor
Force, p. 79; and Lourdes Gouveia and Stull, “Latino Immigrants, Meatpacking, and Rural Communities: A Case Study
of Lexington, Nebraska” (East Lansing: Michigan State University, Julian Samora Research Institute, Aug. 1997),
Research Report No. 26, p. 15.
169 Quoted in Christopher Cook, “Hog-Tied: Migrant Workers Find Themselves Trapped on the Pork Assembly Line,”
Progressive, Sept. 1999, p. 32. (Hereafter cited as Cook, Hog-Tied.)
Some observers report that industry employers “aggressively recruit Mexicans and Southeast
Asians” and supplement them with “growing numbers of single mothers from rural areas.” Such 170
practices, it is argued, have “impeded unionization” and promoted workforce instability. Firms
may “cut costs with low wages, minimum benefits, and, critics argue, ... high turnover.” Some
companies offer “yearly bonuses” but these are, often, “not paid until employees have worked for
a full calendar year.” The same can be said of paid vacations. With the reportedly high turnover 171
rate, some workers “do not make it” long enough to qualify.
Healthcare may pose a similar problem. Some workers “cannot enroll until four to six months
(depending on the plant) after they are employed.” With high turnover, some may never qualify.
“To avoid employee insurance claims, companies commonly find excuses to fire workers who 172
show signs of debilitating injury,” according to critic Janet Benson. With high turnover, some
assert, responsibility for work-related disability can be shifted “to the workers’ home country” 173
since the workers may have left the United States before serious conditions develop. Some 174
conditions may simply go unreported and untreated.
Union avoidance may also result from high turnover. With a rotating workforce, many employers
acquire no continuing obligation to their employees; but, workers, some suggest, may be similarly
affected. They may view their work as temporary, not as a career. Their immediate concern is 175
“economic survival and, if possible, capital accumulation.” Mexican workers, observes Arthur
Campa, are not only “isolated from mainstream Anglo American life, but they are separate from
the native Mexican American community as well.” When they lose their jobs they move on, 176
sometimes returning to Mexico. Their awareness of their rights may be slight and contacts with 177
trade union or social service workers lacking. In this situation, workers may not “identify with
traditional union concerns such as pension, medical care, and wage increases when they have no 178
expectations of continued employment?”
170 Horowitz, Black and White, p. 277. There may be other interpretations.
171 Stull and Broadway, The Effects of Restructuring, pp. 13-14. In “Introduction: Making Meat,” Any Way You Cut It,
p. 5, Donald D. Stull, et al., point to “workers from Mexico who migrate between different agricultural sectors:
between agricultural harvest work, fruit, and vegetable packing, and meat and poultry processing....”
172 Janet E. Benson, The Effects of Packinghouse Work, pp.119-120. See also, Kay, The Nature of Turnover, p. 31;
Warren, Struggling with “Iowa’s Pride”, p. 129-130; and Stephen J. Hedges, Dana Hawkins and Penny Loeb, “The
New Jungle,” U.S. News and World Report, Sept. 23, 1996, pp. 42-43. (Hereafter cited as Hedges, et al., The New
Jungle.) Bob Hall, in The Kill Line, p. 220, suggests that some workers who do qualify for benefits may not utilize
them through fear of losing their jobs.
173 Cook, Hog-Tied, p. 32.
174 Jenny Schulz, “Grappling with a Meaty Issue: IIRIRA’s Effect on Immigrants in the Meatpacking Industry,” The
Journal of Gender, Race & Justice, fall 1998, p. 156. (Hereafter cited as Schulz, Grappling.) See also Stull and
Broadway, Slaughterhouse Blues, p. 75; and Hackenberg, et al., Creating a Disposable Labor Force, p. 79. Mike
Wilson, in an Associated Press article, Illegal Immigrants in Nebraska, Iowa[,]Complain of Abuses, Sept. 10, 2003,
reported, citing Jose Luis Cuevas, Mexican consul in Omaha as his source, that “companies frequently fire workers
when they’re injured on the job.” Cuevas reportedly stated: “They’re using undocumented workers as disposable
175 Janet E. Benson, “Households, Migration, and Community Context,” Urban Anthropology, spring-summer 1990, p.
176 Arthur Campa, “Immigrant Latinos and Resident Mexican Americans in Garden City, Kansas: Ethnicity and Ethnic
Relations,” Urban Anthropology, winter 1990, p. 351. (Hereafter cited as Campa, Immigrant Latinos.)
177 See Janet E. Benson, “Good Neighbors: Ethnic Relations in Garden City Trailer Courts,” Urban Anthropology,
winter 1990, pp. 361-386.
178 Horowitz, Black and White, p. 277.
Arden Walker, former head of labor relations for IBP, summarized his perspective on the
implications of worker turnover at an NLRB hearing in 1984:
COUNSEL: With regard to turnover, since you are obviously experiencing it, does that
Mr. WALKER: Not really.
COUNSEL: Why Not?
Mr. WALKER: We found very little correlation between turnover and profitability. An
employee leaves for whatever reason. Generally, we’re able to have a replacement employee,
and I might add that the way fringe benefits have been negotiated or installed, they favor
long-term employees. For instance, insurance, as you know, is very costly. Insurance is not
available to new employees until they’ve worked there for a period of a year or, in some
cases, six months. Vacations don’t accrue until the second year. There are some economies, 179
frankly, that result from hiring new employees.
But some industry leaders deny that workers are transient. “We have no migrant workers at all,”
states Richard Lobb of the National Chicken Council. When people are given a job in a poultry
plant, it is expected that it is a permanent full-time position.... They are not migrant, they are not 180
The workforce in the packing/processing industry has been characterized as immigrant (some,
already citizens) and it has been observed that “the meat industry had always been a point of 181
entry for immigrants joining American society.” That may have been true up to World War I 182
when industry had at its disposal “a ready supply of cheap labor.” Edna Bonacich recalls: 183
“Europeans had also played a ‘cheap labor’ role.”
During mid-century, things changed. Unions demanded and secured better wages and working
conditions: employment became more stable. Workers came to identify with their unions and
their employers. They put down roots, bought homes, and raised families. Then, in the 1960s,
things changed again. Newcomers, largely immigrant, were again actively recruited. Often with
179 The exchange is quoted in Stull and Broadway, Killing Them Softly, p. 70. Labor historian Dana Frank, in her study,
“... The Detroit Woolworth’s Strike of 1937,” in Frank, Robin Kelley and Howard Zinn, Three Strikes: Miners,
Musicians, Salesgirls, and the Fighting Spirit of Labor’s Last Century (Boston, Beacon Press, 2001), p. 70, observed of
1930s retailing, “... if turnover rates are high, so much the better—managers can then pick and choose the pliant, the
eager, and the charming.”
180 Lobb is quoted in The Christian Science Monitor, Apr. 28, 1999, p. 3. See also Horowitz, The Decline of Unionism,
pp. 35-36; and Richard Alaniz, “Multiple Factors Influence Declining Union Membership,” Meat & Poultry, May
1998, p. 68.
181 Rodengen, The Legend of IBP, p. 181. The African-American experience must be viewed somewhat differently.
182 Ostendorf, Packinghouse Communities, p. 492.
183 Edna Bonacich, “Advanced Capitalism and Black/White Race Relations in the United States,” American
Sociological Review, Feb. 1976, p. 38. (Hereafter cited as Bonacich, Advanced Capitalism.) See also Bjerklie, On the
Horns of a Dilemma, p. 50.
few marketable skills and/or otherwise disadvantaged, they were willing to work long hours at 184
hard and disagreeable work for low wages—and, possibly, not join a union.
“No one could have guessed,” mused Steve Bjerklie, “that people from nations we had barely
heard of in 1955—Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam—would one day comprise a significant 185
percentage of our industry’s workforce.”
In the 1990s, University of Arkansas anthropologist Steve Striffler applied for work on the
production line (poultry processing) at the Tyson plant in Springdale, Arkansas. He recalls,
entering the personnel office:
The secretary and I are the only Americans, the only white folk, and the only English
speakers in the room. Spanish predominates, but is not the only foreign language. Lao is
heard from a couple in the corner, and a threesome from the Marshall Islands are speaking a
Striffler would later observe: “... about three-quarters of plant labor force are Latin American,
with Southeast Asians and Marshallese accounting for a large percentage of the remaining 186
workers. U.S.-born workers,” he adds, “are few and far between.”
When operating a labor-intensive facility in a sparsely populated area, labor scarcity might be 187
anticipated. If an employer has determined, in so far as possible, to work union-free (and to
avoid hiring workers with trade union backgrounds), that might further reduce the pool from
which a firm can recruit. The recruiting process may be further limited (and focused) by a policy
of payment of low wages for work that is unpleasant, dirty, and dangerous. If recruitment for such
jobs is directed toward persons of limited work experience, few marketable skills, and slight
English language proficiency, then a demographic shift may not be unexpected. In pursuit of such
a strategy, critics suggest, firms “deliberately recruit ... immigrants” who “almost universally lack 188
any knowledge of U.S. working conditions, labor practices, or of their legal rights.” At the
same time, some suggest that with active recruitment and serious retention efforts American 189
workers could be found.
The issue may have been one of definition: of distinguishing between shortages that are absolute 190
and those that may be reflective of employer policies.
184 Rodengen, The Legend of IBP, pp. 163-164, and 64; and Hake and King, “The Veblenian Credit Economy,” p. 503.
185 Bjerklie, “Revelations: The Industry in the Year 2035,” Meat & Poultry, Jan. 1955, p. 15.
186 Striffler, Inside a Poultry Processing Plant, p. 305.
187 For example, Elzbieta M. Gozdziak and Micah N. Bump, “Poultry, Apples, and New Immigrants in the Rural
Communities of the Shenandoah Valley: An Ethnographic Case Study,” International Migration, vol. 42, no. 1, 2004,
pp. 149-151, observe: “Processing companies, having relocated in small, rural communities with little local labour
force, often actively recruit immigrant workers from traditional gateway states, as well as directly from Mexico and
188 Nowell, A Chicken in Every Pot, p. 329. Valdes, Barrios Nortenos, p. 225, states: “In Lexington [Nebraska], the
Latino population rose from 3.3 percent of the total in 1990 to more than 30 percent by 1996 as a result of the opening
of an IBP beef-packing plant, and an estimated 75 percent to 80 percent of the workers were from Texas and Mexico.”
189 See Grey, Pork Poultry, and Newcomers, pp. 109-116.
190 Donald D. Stull, et al., “Introduction: Making Meat,” in Any Way You Cut It, p. 3, suggest that the stability of the
Immigrant (or other alien) workers normally enter the United States with the intention of 191
working. Even adverse working conditions and low wages may be better than those offered in
the immigrant’s country of origin. As a result, new arrivals may have low expectations and be
willing to endure conditions, both at work and of home life, that American workers would not 192
The presence of Hispanics in the meat processing workforce, according to Griffith, “is correlated
with lower wage rates” and lower numbers of African-American workers. While Asians “occupy
a small place in most work forces,” he observes, “they occupy a revered position, in many
processor’s minds, as embodying the quintessential work ethic.” But, he states, Asians are “more
upwardly mobile, taking advantage of refugee services to improve English skills and move into 193
better paying jobs.”
From interviews with plant managers and personnel officers, Griffith found the “clearest theme”
was “the belief that Hispanics and Asians have superior work habits” while those of blacks and
whites have “been deteriorating.” It may be that white and African-American workers, from
experience in the industrial workforce, are less willing to adhere to managerial preferences.
Conversely, those less familiar with American work practices (and labor law) may be less
demanding. As immigrants become acclimated, they can be expected to move on to better jobs,
creating a continuing demand for replacements. Some assert that this provides an incentive for
employers to hire unauthorized immigrants who may more willingly cooperate with employers 194
because they cannot legally work in the United States.
Newcomers to the American workplace, Stull concurs, may be “more susceptible to labor-control
mechanisms simply because they haven’t had time to interpret the industry’s behavior or to 195
calculate the costs of resistance or militancy.”
“American companies can’t find enough workers in the United States to meet their needs,”
observed business spokesman Al Zapanta—reflecting what seems to be a widely held belief
among employers: “We’re [Americans] not willing to do these jobs anymore, but immigrants, like 196
always, are willing to do it to provide for their families.”
labor force in the meatpacking industry “... is largely dictated by corporate strategies.” (Hereafter cited as Stull, et al.,
Introduction: Making Meat.) See also Hackenberg, et al., Creating a Disposable Labor Force, pp. 83-84; and Valdes,
Barrios Nortenos, pp. 230-231.
191 Erickson, Guys in White Hats, p. 89.
192 See Griffith, Consequences of Immigration Reform, pp. 164-165.
193 Ibid., pp. 165-168.
194 Ibid., pp. 168-173. See also Robert Lekachman, “The Specter of Full Employment,” Harper’s, Feb. 1977, pp. 36
195 Stull, et al., Introduction: Making Meat, p. 7. See also Barrett, Unity and Fragmentation, p. 48.
196 Kirstin Downey Grimsley, “Tyson Foods Indicted in INS Probe,” The Washington Post, Dec. 20, 2001, p. A13.
Zapanta is identified as president of the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce.
The reality may be more complex. Some have argued that work involving “blood, unpleasant 197
odors and repetitive tasks, is not attractive” to U.S. workers. But other factors including low
wages, high line speeds, little job security, rural-sited facilities, and diminished union protection
may also make domestic recruitment difficult. “A decline in wage levels,” together with other
workplace considerations, Broadway says, “... has served to make meatpacking an unattractive 198
employment option for many Americans.”
The issue may not be reluctance of Americans to work at these jobs (clearly, many are so
employed); rather it may be the terms of employment. “If the job were ‘decent,’” some critics 199
argue, “they would willingly do it.” Some employers agree. Joe Luter, CEO of Smithfield
Foods, Inc., suggests that a solution to industry’s recruitment problem may be “higher wages, 200
which would make processing jobs more attractive to American workers.”
In practice, immigrants (and aliens unauthorized to work in the United States) constitute an 201
almost “inexhaustible supply” of low-wage labor. In this view, once employers become 202
accustomed to the “flow of new immigrants,” they may continue to recruit them—often at the
expense of “native workers”and of less recent immigrants of whatever ethnic/racial 203
background. Bonacich concludes that “availability of a ‘cheap labor’ alternative” has enabled 204
employers “to avoid improving the job and raising wages.” “What really needs to be
addressed,” argues Joe Berra of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, “is 205
our immigration policy on one hand, and workers rights on the other.”
Meanwhile, employers have organized in order to procure more workers, “both skilled and lesser
skilled.” Banning together, they have created an interest group, the Essential Worker Immigration
198 Michael J. Broadway, “Beef Stew: Cattle, Immigrants and Established Residents in a Kansas Beefpacking Town,”
in Lamphere, Newcomers in the Workplace, p. 25. See also Benson, The Effects of Packinghouse Work, in Lamphere,
199 Bonacich, Advanced Capitalism, p. 48. See also Roger Horowitz and Mark Miller, Immigrants in the Delmarva
Poultry Processing Industry: The Changing Face of Georgetown, Delaware and Environs (East Lansing: Michigan
State University, Julian Samora Research Institute, Jan. 1999), Occasional Paper No. 37, p. 5.
200 Stein, Son of A Chicken Man, p. 146. Some employers argue that “they can’t pay more because consumers won’t
buy the products if they cost more.” See Grimsley, “Tyson Foods Indicted in INS Probe,” The Washington Post, Dec.
20, 2001, p. A13.
The General Accounting Office (now Government Accountability Office) (GAO), in its report, Community
Development: Changes in Nebraska’s and Iowa’s Counties with Large Meatpacking Plant Workforces, GAO/RCED-
98-62, Feb. 1998, pp. 4-5, explains, citing local officials and company management, “sometimes, not enough local area
residents are available to fill plants’ openings and that at other times, not enough local area residents are willing to fill
job openings at starting pay levels.” GAO adds that plants “have hired increasing numbers of minority and immigrant
workers” from high unemployment areas within the United States “and from Mexico, Central America, Asia, Africa,
and Eastern Europe.” GAO also reports, p. 2, that federal authorities have estimated “that up to 25 percent of the
workers in meatpacking plants in Nebraska and Iowa were illegal aliens.”
201 Otey Scruggs, Braceros, “Wetbacks,” and the Farm Labor Problem: Mexican Agricultural Labor in the United
States, 1942-1954 (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1988), p. 68. See also Shawn Zeller, “Inside Job,” The
National Journal’s Government Executive, Dec. 2001, p. 47 ff. Conversely, industry analyst Richard Alaniz, in
“Avoiding Rehiring Costs by Retaining Good Employees,” Meat & Poultry, May 1999, p. 80, states: “Recruiting and
retaining employees is becoming one of the most difficult and time-consuming aspects of running a business.”
202 Griffith, Hay Trabajo, p. 147.
203 Griffith, Consequences of Immigration Reform, p. 170.
204 Bonacich, Advanced Capitalism, p. 48.
205 Quoted in Leon Lazaroff, “Welcome to the Jungle,” In These Times, July 8, 2002, p. 5.
Coalition (EWIC), a body “of businesses, trade associations, and other organizations from across
the industry spectrum concerned with the shortage of both skilled and lesser skilled (“essential 206207
worker”) labor.” Among those associated with the EWIC was the American Meat Institute.
With the prosperity of the 1990s, according to IBP historian Rodengen, the economy “entered one
of its strongest periods on record and unemployment dropped drastically”—to below 3% in Iowa
and Nebraska. For some packers, he states, this apparently “meant dealing with illegal immigrants
who were seeking to fill the many open positions in company plants.” Employing such workers,
while attempting to secure an adequate supply of labor, he suggests, may have been inadvertent.
Further, he states, IBP had been “... prohibited by law from asking too many questions about
background, which meant it often couldn’t get the information it needed to prevent an illegal 208
immigrant from getting hired.”
During the 1990s, by estimates of a former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) 209
officer, about 25% of packing/processing workers may have been persons unauthorized to work 210
in the United States and employed in violation of U.S. immigration law. Some have suggested
that the “largest concentration of illegally employed persons in the U.S. work in the meatpacking 211
industry.” According to Stull, et al., this reflects both “targeted recruitment” and “the character 212
and enforcement of immigration laws.” But, even were immigration laws enforced more
strictly, compliance would be difficult. With high employee turnover rates, varying roughly from
40% and 100% per year, effective enforcement would require a continuing federal presence. Even
a small measure of collusion between an employer and a worker employed illegally could, 213
arguably, defeat such efforts.
206 See the website of the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition, http://www.ewic.org, visited on Nov. 28, 2003.
207 See “Essential Worker Immigration Coalition Resumes Lobbying,” National Journal’s CongressDaily, Mar. 15,
2002. See also the DLR, July 28, 2003, p. A6. Valdes, Barrios Nortenos, p. 249, questions the thesis that foreign
workers are only taking jobs that Americans don’t want. The theory, he speculates, does not “account for the late-
twentieth-century trend toward dominance by Mexicans in midwestern packing plants, which European American [and,
presumably, African American] workers did not want to leave.”
208 Rodengen, The Legend of IBP, p. 181. Louis Jacobson, writing in the National Journal’s Government Executive,
Feb. 2000, p. 51 ff., reports “Several big companies have even opened recruiting offices in Mexican cities.” Jacobson
continues: “The companies say those offices are designed to attract the tens of thousands of Mexicans who possess
legal U.S. work papers.” He acknowledges that “some observers express skepticism at that explanation...,” but adds:
“The problem, sources say, is that immigrants have been getting increasingly clever about obtaining documents ...
under false pretenses. Many employers are unable—or in some cases unwilling—to tell the difference between what is
real and what is fake.”
209 The Homeland Security Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-296) abolished INS and transferred its functions from the
Department of Justice to the Department of Homeland Security. The transfer occurred Mar. 1, 2003.
210 See Schulz, Grappling, p.151; and Rebecca Gants, “I.N.S. Electronic Verification,” Meat & Poultry, June 1996, pp.
56-58. (Hereafter cited as Gants, Electronic Verification.)
211 Ibid., p. 56, is here summarizing comments by Jerry Heinauer, district director of INS for Omaha.
212 Stull et al., Introduction: Making Meat, p. 3.
213 Hedges et al., The New Jungle, p. 38. For a discussion of recent United States immigration policy, see Douglas S.
Massey, Jorge Durand, and Nolan J. Malone, Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Mexican Immigration in an Era of Economic
Integration (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2002), pp. 2-3, together with Vernon M. Briggs’s review of that
study in Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Jan. 2003, pp. 361-363.
In legislating, Congress has been concerned that prevention of the illegal employment of foreign
workers should not adversely impact U.S. citizens or others authorized to work in the United 214
States. Thus, some packing plants may have had “to walk a fine line during the hiring 215
process.” There may be a delicate balance between laws “that protect employee rights and 216
those that prohibit the employment of undocumented workers.”
DOL’s Bernard Anderson noted, early in 2000, that the Department had a “long-term goal of
increasing compliance with labor laws.” (Italics added.) It would focus, he affirmed, “on the low-
wage industries because they have a historically high level of noncompliance and employ 217
vulnerable workers who often won’t complain about violation of their workplace rights.”
Coping with such concerns continues to be a Department goal, although its achievement may not
be easy and may involve prodding from sources outside the Department. It may also involve
extended litigation. The problem is at least two-fold: defining precisely what the law provides 218
and, thereafter, determining the character of existing industry practice.
During the fall of 1996, the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice (NICWJ) issued an
appeal to the Department of Labor (DOL) urging action with respect to what it termed 219
“agricultural sweatshops.” The Committee proposed:
• Investigation of alleged sweatshops in the poultry industry.
• That DOL “convene a ‘poultry summit’” to bring together the parties at interest
“to look at ways of raising wages in the industry, providing better benefits to
workers, and improving working conditions.”
• That DOL issue “‘worker-rights guidelines’ to ensure that poultry workers have
the right to organize without fear of job loss or harassment” and, if voting for a
union, to secure a contract within a reasonable period.
In November 1996, Secretary Robert Reich announced initiation of “a special targeted 220
enforcement project in the poultry processing industry.”
214 Phil Olsson, “Employee Eligibility: Dealing with the Double-Edged Sword of Immigration Law,” Meat & Poultry,
June 1996, p. 55.
215 Rodengen, The Legend of IBP, p. 181. See Farm Bureau News, Mar. 19, 2001, p. 2.
216 Hedges, et al., The New Jungle, p. 38. Concerning the overall structure of the industry and of the labor-management
relationship, see Charles Craypo, “Meatpacking: Industry Restructuring and Union Decline,” in Paula B. Voos, ed.,
Contemporary Collective Bargaining in the Private Sector (Madison: Industrial Relations Research Association, 1994),
217 Federal News Service, Mar. 23, 2000.
218 See, for example, The [Raleigh] News and Observer, June 6, 2001, p. A17, and U.S. Newswire, Inc., May 9, 2002.
219 Chicago-based, the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice has special concern with low-wage workers in
poultry processing who are “primarily African American and Latino, [who] often toil in unsafe and unsanitary
conditions, with few benefits....” See the NICWJ website at http://www.nicwj.org. See also Robert Bussel, “Taking on
‘Big Chicken’: The Delmarva Poultry Justice Alliance,” Labor Studies Journal, summer 2003, pp. 1-24; and Fink, The
Maya of Morganton, pp. 121-124.
A DOL survey was conducted during 1997 and 1998. It found numerous health and safety
concerns: e.g., (a) workers “stationed so close together they lacerated co-workers with their
knives, indicating a need for more space, more protective gear, or both;” (b) “supervisors [often]
... had trouble communicating with and providing training to workers who spoke little English”;
and (c) “a number of plants were not in compliance with OSHA’s process safety management 221
standard.” Violations of the FLSA and of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Workers
Protection Act (MSPA) were found to be systemic. Some 60% of surveyed plants “had violations 222
of wage and hour and safety and health laws.” New inspections followed; and in October 1999,
leaders of NICWJ and the AFL-CIO called for a congressional investigation of the poultry 223
industry and “its abuse of workers.”
A second survey conducted by the Department in 2000 disclosed violations of the FLSA, MSPA 224
and of the Family and Medical Leave Act. It found that “none of the processing plants subject
to investigation were in full compliance with all three labor statutes.” NICWJ’s Kim Bobo
declared it “shocking there has been no improvement” since the 1997 survey. Bill Schmitz of the
UFCW called poultry processing “an outlaw industry.” But, the National Chicken Council termed
the survey results inaccurate and misleading, according to the Daily Labor Report. Much of the
problem, suggested Richard Lobb of the Council, stemmed from confusion about the law and 225
DOL’s questionable interpretation of it—primarily with respect to donning and doffing. (See
The Fair Labor Standards Act is the primary federal statute dealing with minimum wages,
overtime pay, and related matters. FLSA violations were a central theme in DOL’s 1997 and 2000
surveys, noted above.
Whether working with large animals (cattle, hogs, sheep) or with poultry, the slaughtering and
packing process involves contact with potentially hazardous substances: blood, feces, intestinal
juices, etc. Thus, workers in the industry wear protective gear varying in heft and complexity with
the task to be performed. During a visit to IBP’s beef plant at Finney County, Kansas, in the late
220 DLR, Nov. 27, 1996, pp. A10-A11. In November, Secretary Reich also announced his retirement, to take effect in
Jan. 1997. DLR, Nov. 12, 1996, pp. AA1-AA2.
221 DLR, Sept. 18, 1998, pp. A3-A4.
222 DLR, Jan. 12, 2001, p. A11.
223 DLR, Oct. 13, 1999, p. C4.
224 See The Washington Times, Jan. 15, 2002, p. D3. A summary of the survey report can be found at
225 DLR, Jan. 12, 2001, p. A11.
Depending on their job, each worker may wear as much as $600 worth of safety
equipment—hardhat, earplugs, cloth and steel mesh gloves, mail aprons and leggings, 226
weight-lifting belts, or shin guards. They don’t have to buy any of this equipment.
Poultry processing requires less substantial equipment but what is used is, nonetheless, essential:
protective hand gear, smocks, hairnets, face masks, etc.
The more complicated the equipment, the more time is consumed in preparing for work, for
breaks, and in cleaning up afterward. During recent years, a question has arisen: Should the
employer be required to compensate workers for time spent in pre- and post-production activities
such as “donning” protective garb and, at shift’s end, “doffing” garments. Is time so spent
included in the concept of hours of work?
How hours of work is defined for implementing the FLSA would seem to fall to the Department
Commonly, industry has not compensated workers for donning and doffing time.227 But, through
recent years, the issue has been the subject of extended compliance action by DOL—and of
litigation. The courts have divided on the question, but some penalties imposed upon industry
have been substantial. In 2005, the broader issue of donning and doffing was unresolved—and the 228
time actually spent by workers in such activities similarly remained in dispute. Reportedly,
delegations from industry and the UFCW have met with Secretary Chao, stating their respective
interpretations of the law, and DOL has commenced a review of the issue. Although it continues
to enforce the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime pay requirements in the poultry industry, 229
DLR reported, “it no longer is targeting the industry for special compliance scrutiny.”
The term, chicken catcher might be misleading. The chicken catchers, considered here, work in
teams in association with corporate processors. They may, as a team, handle as many as 30,000 to 230
“They collect the birds by hand” for transport to a processing plant. “Chicken catchers are
exposed to airborne contaminants—skin debris, broken feather barbules, insect parts, aerosolized 231
feed ... poultry excreta ... bacteria” and “dangerous gases.”
The status of these workers has long been a source of contention. For example, how are such
workers classified for wage/hour and labor-management relations purposes? Are they farm
226 Donald D. Stull, “Knock ‘Em Dead: Work on the Kill Floor of a Modern Beefpacking Plant,” in Lamphere, et al.,
Newcomers in the Workplace, p. 47.
227 Industrial Safety & Hygiene News, July 2002, p. 14.
228 DLR, Sept. 17, 2002, p. A1. Under date of June 3,2003, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that
“[w]alking to obtain uniforms and equipment and waiting in line are not compensable time” under the FLSA (Tum v. st
Barber Foods Inc. d/b/a Barber Foods, 1 Cir., No. 02-1679). Then, on Aug. 5, 2003, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the
Ninth Circuit ruled that “[m]eatpacking employees must be compensated” under the FLSA “from the moment they th
begin putting on safety gear required for their jobs until they take the gear off.” (Alvarez v. IBP Inc., 9 Cir., No. 02-
35042). This latter case is under appeal.
229 DLR, July 24, 2001, pp. C1-2.
230 DLR, May 5, 2000, p. A8.
231 Nowell, A Chicken in Every Pot, p. 329.
workers or industrial workers? The two classifications are treated differently under the FLSA and
the National Labor Relations Act. Or are they independent contractors—and, thus, free from
wage/hour requirements and collective bargaining protection?
At least since the late 1980s, the treatment of chicken catchers has been a focus of labor-
management dispute and of litigation. As the century closed, the issue was still before the courts.
But gradually, the status of the workers has become clearer. Judge William Nickerson (the U.S.
District Court for the District of Maryland) found that the processor “... controls every significant
aspect of the chicken catching operation.” DLR summarized: “The company owns the chickens
..., it owns the trucks on which they are transported, and it determines from which farm and how 232
many chickens are to be brought in each day.” Judge Nickerson found: “Although
geographically their work takes them outside the processing plants, the catchers’ function, in a 233
real sense, is simply part of the production line.”
With time, some firms have settled disputed claims with respect to FLSA and related coverage;
others continued to challenge the Department’s interpretation of the law. The contests, in varying
forms and jurisdictions, have moved slowly through the courts—and new issues have been raised.
The question of fair labor standards for meat and poultry workers, however, has not yet been fully 234
For the past century, line speeds have been a constant worker complaint. Commons, writing of the 235
Chicago yards in 1904, thought speed “was undoubtedly the grievance above all others.” With
time and union pressure, some moderation was achieved; but, some suggest, things changed again
with the advent of the new breed packers. The UFCW’s Lewie Anderson, starting work at an
older Armour plant, found “a pace that you could handle” to “do the work ... without killing
yourself.” Moving to IBP, he found the line speed “more than twice as fast” with supervisors “in
there on top of the people ... screaming at them and pushing them, literally pushing them, to go 236
faster and faster.”
“Worker productivity remains the key to profits—and survival—in a fiercely competitive
business,” states Broadway. “Worker productivity is a function of line speed; speed it up, and 237
productivity increases.” Bjerklie concurs: “... the search for faster and better ways to slaughter
and process meat and livestock is relentless, and has resulted in line (or ‘chain’) speeds of
232 DLR, Mar. 1, 2000, p. A5.
233 See Heath v. Perdue Farms Inc., D. Md., No. WMN-98-3159, Feb. 24, 2000, summarized in DLR, Mar. 1, 2000, pp.
234 See DLR, May 5, 2000, p. A8, Aug. 20, 2001, p. A2, May 11, 2002, pp. A1-A2, Mar. 25, 2002, p. A8, June 5, 2003,
pp. AA1-AA2, E1-E4, Aug. 6, 2003, pp. AA1-AA-2, E1-E11, and Sept. 10, 2003, AA1-AA2, E8-E13. Concerning yet
another issue, the U.S. District court for the Northern District of Iowa, Nov. 20, 2003 (Jimenez v. Duran, N.D. Iowa,
No. 01-3068-MWB), ruled that “[e]mployees of an Iowa contracting service that vaccinated and tended to chickens are
exempt from the overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act.” See DLR, Oct. 28, 2003, pp. AA1-AA2, E1-
E7. See also Stull and Broadway, Slaughterhouse Blues, pp. 47 and 50-51.
235 Commons, Labor Conditions, p. 7.
236 Horowitz, Black and White, pp. 245-246.
237 Broadway, From City to Countryside, p. 22.
unimaginable rapidity....”238 IBP’s Peterson sew the issue a little differently. “You can’t ever 239
overwork anybody on a constant basis or they’re going to quit.”
The issue is complex. At IBP in the 1960s, UFCW’s Anderson reported “constant turnover” as a 240
response to line speed. If turnover is not regarded as entirely negative by industry, it may be a
mixed blessing. Some argue that “IBP plants were accident-prone because of their accelerated 241
line speeds and the constant pressure on workers to meet arbitrary production quotas.” This 242
leads, others say,”to worker turnover” and stress-induced absenteeism. A revolving workforce
of sometimes “untrained, inexperienced, and often young workers” may lead, some suggest, to 243244
still higher injury rates. Break time and rest periods are similarly contentious issues.
These questions remain unresolved. How humane can the workplace be made without unduly
impacting efficiency and profitability? Though immediately of concern for OSHA purposes, the
issues raised by line speeds, break time, and rest periods are not directly addressed by the FLSA.
It may be, after careful consideration, that workers (with their unions) and employers are satisfied
with the current state of labor practices in the packing and processing industry. And, it may not be
necessary to review enforcement of labor, safety and health standards, immigration law, or related
The course chosen will rest, largely, with the parties at interest: labor, management, and
government. How strongly does industry want a union free environment? Does it regard labor
turnover, for reasons discussed above, to be a positive (or tolerable) part of the post-1960s
workplace? Can industry secure an adequate workforce through domestic recruitment and
employment of authorized immigrant workers?
Control of the workplace rests essentially with management—even where there is effective
collective bargaining. However, even without a formal union presence, workers can be expected
to demand reforms. Where such reforms are not forthcoming, workers may turn to the trade union
movement for assistance and redress. At the same time, it is possible that industry will undertake
changes—if only to prevent trade union initiatives and to stave off government action. If
voluntary change is not forthcoming, given the results of the 1997-1998 and 2000 DOL 245
workplace surveys, there may well be further pressure for legislative or regulatory action.
238 Bjerklie, On the Horns of a Dilemma, p. 43.
239 Kay, Bob Peterson, p. 36.
240 Horowitz, Black and White, p. 246.
241 Craypo, Strike and Relocation, p. 193.
242 Griffith, Hay Trabajo, p. 136. See also Hackenberg, et al., Creating a Disposable Labor Force, p. 85.
243 Craypo, Strike and Relocation, p. 193. See also Nowell, A Chicken in Every Pot, pp. 327-328 and 335.
244 See Stromquist, Solidarity & Survival, pp. 97-98; and Griffith, Consequences of Immigration Reform, p. 161.
245 Market power and labor/industry/community relationships are discussed in Alan Barkema, Mark Drabenstott and
Nancy Novack, “The New U.S. Meat Industry,” Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City (Second
Quarter, 2001), pp. 33-56.
Authors, in writing of labor practices in meatpacking and poultry processing, have suggested a
variety of workplace changes that could ease the strain on workers while, they argue, improving
general efficiency and reducing certain labor-related costs. The utility of such proposals and the
validity of projected impacts may need further study. But, they may also be worth consideration.
Reducing the line speed—sometimes associated with cumulative trauma disorders—has been 246
suggested. “If they slowed down the lines and rotated workers, we’d have fewer problems 247
around here,” argues Bodo Treu, workers’ compensation physician for IBP at Storm Lake.
“Redesign tools so they, rather than the workers’ forceful motions, do the job”—“[a]utomate or 248
restructure especially hazardous jobs.”
Some workers view employment in packing and processing as incompatible with age. Five years 249
is “about the longest period a person could last on the slaughter line,” some suggest. If
retention is desired, re-engineering of the work process could be an option. So, too, might be a
seniority system that moves workers up and into work commensurate with their experience and
strength. Some suggest that a firm, through such changes, could capitalize on its recruitment and
training investment—while workers could look forward to a career in the industry.
Small changes may help reduce work-related injuries. Increase the number of short breaks, some
have argued. Stop the line for a brief period: allowing workers time to stretch or to rotate to
slightly different jobs—to do simple aerobics, or just to get away from the stress of a constantly 250
moving line. Assigning workers to a variety of jobs (mornings at one task; afternoons, another)
has been proposed as a way to ease muscle strain—and relieve boredom. “But, most of all,” say 251
Stull and Broadway, “slow down the chain.”
“A key element of ... employee retention,” affirms Mark Klein of Excel, “is to offer good wages 252
and benefits.” Some restructuring of the fringe benefit package, particularly with respect to
vesting (e.g., healthcare coverage) might foster workforce stability. Enhanced portability of health 253
and pension benefits might also be an option.
“Hours,” Stull suggests, “vary seasonally and even weekly depending on the price and supply of 254
fat cattle, consumer demand, and profit margins.” Currently, it’s asserted: “Six-day weeks and
mandatory overtime alternate with sudden layoffs as the packers adjust to fluctuations in meat
246 Hall, The Kill Line, p. 225.
247 Hedges et al., The New Jungle, p. 39.
248 Hall, The Kill Line, p. 225.
249 Kay, The Nature of Turnover, p. 31.
250 Grey, Pork, Poultry, and Newcomers, p. 116.
251 Stull and Broadway, Killing Them Softly, p. 81. See also Jane Kelly, “Perdue: New Processing Plant Is Strictly for
the Foodservice Market,” Meat & Poultry, Dec. 1992, p. 15, for discussion of an exercise and job rotation regime at a
Perdue facility in Dillon County, South Carolina.
252 Kay, The Nature of Turnover, p. 34.
253 See Stull, Of Meat and (Wo)Men, p. 115. Stull estimates gross annual earnings for line workers at between $15,000
and $22,000, depending upon the grade and seniority, may actually prevail.
254 Stull, Of Meat and (Wo)Men, p. 115.
supply and demand.”255 Might flexibility be built into such a system? Some urge a more family-
friendly workplace: affordable daycare, flexible workhours (an option of worker choice), and
fixed schedules that can be adjusted to accommodate a worker’s family or other responsibilities.
IBP’s Ken Kimbro suggests that a “primary reason people leave jobs is that they don’t feel 256
appreciated.” Low esteem for workers, some argue, is reflected in high turnover rates—and in 257
the manner in which line workers are viewed by the communities within which they reside.
Increased investment in human resource management has been suggested as one potential 258
remedy. This involves “treating people with respect and dignity,” Hall argues. “It includes
training, fostering upward mobility, maintaining a complete medical program, and disciplining
line supervisors who violate company policy. The payoff,” he states, “includes lower-turnover, 259
improved morale, better production, and savings on health costs....”
General policy and practices in meat packing and poultry processing have been debated through
many years. But, there may be a number of issues that could attract attention from policy makers.
The issue of donning and doffing is rooted in the overtime pay provisions of the FLSA; but, the
facts of the issue remain in dispute. How much time is actually spent putting on or taking off
protective clothing and equipment? Does it vary, significantly, from one segment of the industry
to another—and between employers? Enforcement and litigation depend largely upon the facts in
The courts have divided on some of the overall (and specific) issues involved in donning and
doffing. Can a solution to the current dispute be effected through regulatory reform? Through the
courts? Or, should Congress define, more clearly, its intent with respect to portal-to-portal
issues? Were Congress to modify the FLSA with respect to donning and doffing standards, would 260
the effect be felt elsewhere: e.g., in mining, in nuclear power, or in laboratory work?
Treatment of chicken catchers involves both the FLSA and NLRA. For labor standards and
collective bargaining purposes, how are chicken catchers defined? Are they agricultural
employees (exempt or afforded special treatment under the FLSA and NLRA) or are they
industrial workers and protected by those statutes? Are they independent contractors? If chicken
255 Horowitz, Negro and White, p. 282. See also Benson, The Effects of Packinghouse Work, pp. 102-103, 111.
256 Quoted in Kay, The Nature of Turnover, p. 31-32.
257 Stull et al., Introduction: Making Meat, p. 4. Griffith, Consequences of Immigration Reform, p. 156, states:
“...workers in industries like poultry processing are often somewhat marginal to the labor force, consisting of large
proportions of unskilled workers, women, minorities, students, prisoners, and others who occupy positions in the plants
seasonally or irregularly....” See also Hall, Chicken Empires, p. 15; and Campa, Immigrant Latinos, pp. 345-360.
258 Richard Alaniz, “Avoiding Rehiring Costs by Retaining Good Employees,” Meat & Poultry, May 1999, p. 80.
259 Hall, The Kill Line, pp. 228-229.
260 DLR, Jan. 9, 2003, p. A8, reported that Honda Manufacturing of Alabama “will pay $1.2 million to workers at its
Lincoln, Ala., plant, after a Department of Labor investigation found that workers there were not paid for the time they
spent putting on their uniforms at work.” The general issue is still open, DLR reports.
catchers are deemed to be employees (for labor standards and collective bargaining purposes),
might grow-out farmers be similarly protected?
The labor-management relationship may be another area of concern. How high is the turnover
rate in the industry? To what extent is the workforce simply migratory or casual? Such elements
would likely impact the ability of workers to organize and to bargain collectively. In the context
of a high turnover rate, what are the effective rights of short-term workers and how are they
How well have NLRA procedures functioned in the context of the meat packing and poultry 261
(seafood) processing industries? Employers could find themselves confronted with a
continuing cycle of organizational campaigns which, whatever their outcome, could be disruptive
and costly. Where a workforce may be largely transient, do organizational campaigns reflect the
interest (real or perceived) of the workers? Does the transnational movement of workers suggest a
need to reconsider aspects of the NLRA?
The siting of industry in rural areas may have increased the necessity for recruitment of workers
from outside the areas of production. In some cases, such recruitment has involved groups of
workers, transported by bus or auto, and traveling long distances for work. Reportedly, by the
recruiters.” Given the high turnover rates, are such workers, in fact, seasonal or migratory?
Immigration issues aside, are such workers covered under the MSPA?263 If not, should they be?
What is their relationship of these workers with the agent who arranges their transportation,
employment, and possible housing? If women (and potentially children) are part of this
movement of workers, are special problems raised? Where they enter the country illegally, are
they likely targets of extortion by labor merchants and recruiters? Are they susceptible to other
forms of violence?
Ordinarily, DOL enforcement of labor standards has been complaint based: that is to say, in
response to a complaint from an aggrieved worker. But, complaints may not be frequent where
the workforce, as in poultry processing and some aspects of meat packing, is frequently
immigrant (or composed of foreign workers unauthorized to work in the United States) and where
261 In his study, The Maya of Morganton, p. 199, Fink states: “The federal government needs to restore the ‘right to
organize’ by strengthening penalties for infringement of the labor law....” And, he says: “Current U.S. policy attracts
foreign workers but stifles them once they have arrived.”
262 Cook, Hog-Tied, p. 28. See also Fink, The Maya of Morganton, pp. 17-18; and Stephanie Simon, “Latinos Take
Root in Midwest,” The Los Angeles Times, Oct. 24, 2002, Part 1, p. 1 ff.
263 Signed into law in Jan. 1983, MSPA (P.L. 97-470; 20 U.S.C. 1801-1872) provides basic labor protections for
migrant and for seasonal agricultural workers and deals, inter alia, with transportation safety and, where appropriate,
the safety and health of housing. It also provides a system of registration for persons engaged in agricultural labor
the workers may not be aware of their rights under law. At the same time, DOL and immigration
authorities have sometimes adopted strategies of targeted enforcement of labor standards and
immigration law: focusing upon a specific industry and/or geographical location.
Such initiatives (targeted enforcement) may be a response to staff and resources too limited for
more uniform for more systematic policies. However, such a system, essentially intermittent and
sporadic, could produce enforcement that is perceived to be unfair and/or unequal. Are strike
forces and sting operations appropriate for enforcement of labor standards?
Some have suggested a more cooperative policy between employers (and unions) and
enforcement staff. But, what is the proper balance between outreach (or education) and 264
enforcement, per se?
Change in the meatpacking and poultry processing industries impacts a wide range of public
policy areas. Labor practices have been, through a number of years, a focus of Department of
Labor attention. They have also been a subject of major and continuing litigation, and of a variety
of enforcement campaigns.
At issue are a number of federal statutes: most notably, the Fair Labor Standards Act and the
National Labor Relations Act, but of others as well. Workforce recruitment has affected (and been
affected by) federal immigration policy. Implementation of existing statutes has been a continuing
issue for administrative agencies.
As the industry changes, one may expect to see changes in the labor-management relationship.
What their character will be may depend upon the perception of current problems and challenges.
264 In Slaughterhouse Blues, p. 153, Stull and Broadway review recent litigation involving the meatpacking and poultry
processing industry and state the opinion that “This litany of court cases and settlements suggest that for many
companies, fines are just another cost of doing business. When lawyers’ fees, court costs, and fines exceed the price of
improving working conditions, paying a fair wage, and preventing environmental damage, meat and poultry companies
may change their ways. Until then, it will be business as usual.”
AFL = American Federation of Labor (1881-1955)
AFL-CIO = American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (1955 ff.)
AMCBW = Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen (1897-1979)
CIO = Committee for Industrial Organization (1935-1938)
CIO = Congress of Industrial Organizations (1938-1955)
EWIC= Essential Worker Immigration Coalition
FLSA = Fair Labor Standards Act (1938)
IBP = Iowa Beef Packers (later, Iowa Beef Processors and IBP)
IUAW = Independent Union of All Workers (1933-1936)
IWW = Industrial Workers of the World (1905 ff.)
NICWJ = National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice
NIRA = National Industrial Recovery Act (1933-1935)
NLRA = National Labor Relations Act (1935)
NLRB = National Labor Relations Board (1935 ff.)
PWOC = Packinghouse Workers Organizing Committee (1937-1943)
RCIU = Retail Clerks International Union (1890-1979)
UFCW = United Food and Commercial Workers (1979 ff.)
UPWA = United Packinghouse Workers of America (1943-1968)
William G. Whittaker
Specialist in Labor Economics