Workers & Jobs
The total number of workers in U.S. meat processing firms has increased over 100,000 between 1981 and 2000, from 319,000 to 491,000. In the case of North Carolina, there was a 2% rise in employment in the hog farming industry between 1996 and 2001 followed by a 16% increase between 2001 and 2006 (see Table 2a). The decline in employment growth in recent years can be attributed to the moratorium that was passed by the North Carolina state government that limited the number of new farms that could be built in the state. On the processing side, industry employment has increased from 9,826 to 10,809 in the same period, a 10% increase.
An ethnic breakdown of employment numbers reveals how processes of globalization affect the hog industry in North Carolina. The dimension of globalization most relevant to the hog farming sector is the immigration of Latino workers; this aspect is discussed in greater detail below.According to a report by UNC's Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise,the Latino population of North Carolina increased by nearly 525,000 between 1990 and 2004, with some of the largest concentrations in the agricultural counties of the Central Coastal plains.1,2
A study conducted by Skaggs, Tomaskovich-Devey and Leiter showed that the largest Latino population growth in North Carolina between 1993 and 1997 occurred in the meat industry (not including poultry).3 The following numbers are the breakdown for the industry in 1997: African-Americans were the largest group in this industry (45.2%), followed by Latinos at 30.4% and Whites at 22% of total employment. The same study concluded that there seems to be a pattern of ethnic succession at work in the occupational structure of the industry. Whites filled the managerial, professional, technicians, sales, and clerical jobs; and as whites and blacks left the operative, laborer and service occupations, Latinos filled these positions.4 Since this study, the number of Latinos in the worker population is likely to have grown since then along with the increase in Hispanic popultion.
Unionization and Wages
A 2004 report by Oxfam America showed that farm workers in the United States, including states like North Carolina, earn less than $7,500 per year.5 These workers are suffering from a lack of unionization and fair conditions to work in.
North Carolina is a right-to-work state. "According to the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, the nation recognized the right of employees to form and join their own unions free of employer interference, and made it obligatory for employers to recognize and bargain with unions selected by a majority of their employees. The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 prohibited the closed shop, which conditioned an employee's hiring on union membership. The law permits the "union shop," which requires a newly-hired employee to join a union within 30 days. This law also permitted states to prohibit "agreements requiring membership in a labor organization as a condition of employment." Thus, in right-to-work states, employees have the right to be part of the collective bargaining unit, to be represented by a union for contract negotiations and labor relations, to receive union wages and full rights under the collective bargaining agreement, but do not have to join the union or pay for its services."6
North Carolina continues to be the state with the lowest rate of unionization in the country. With only 3.3% of the workforce with union representation, North Carolina's workers are at a distinct disadvantage in bargaining for wages, insurance and health benefits, and workers' rights.7
This is probably one of the main reasons why average annual household incomes in North Carolina are currently estimated at lower than those necessary for supporting North Carolina's low-income families. The North Carolina Justice Center released a Living Income Standard (LIS) in 2001 and 2003 that estimates the hourly cost of sustaining different size families compared to average wage rates. The study shows that while the average LIS for families is $12.31, the average North Carolina wage among 'median-wage' workers (50th percentile) is $12.46 per hour and only $8.23 per hour among 'low-wage' workers (lower 20th percentile).
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly wage of a North Carolina livestock farm helper is only $8.96, which puts it roughly near the average for 'low-wage' hourly earnings in all North Carolina industries. Although the increase in total wages paid in the North Carolina hog farming industry was substantial between 1990 and 2000, the high positive correlation between wages and the number of hog farm workers implies that the hog farming wage rate has remained relatively stable despite the industry's boom. From 1995 to 1999, wages kept increasing but the rate of increase was becoming gradually smaller.
Average salary did not change dramatically in this period from 1990 to 2000. In 1996, there was a 5.1% increase in average salary, and in 1997 there was a 9.9% increase, but for the remaining years, with the exception of the 7.8% increase in 2000, the percent change in average annual salary ranged from -2% to 3.5%.
While the total wage increased in the period from 1990 to 2000, so too did the number of workers. The percentage change of wages paid out was very closely correlated to the percentage change in the number of workers, and as such, annual salaries thus stayed quite similar over the time period.8
One way to examine the extent to which North Carolina is imbricated in the global economy is to understand immigration patterns into the state. Two important nationwide immigration trends are paralleled in North Carolina: (a) the expansion of Latino populations in rural rather than urban areas, primarily as a result of industrial transformations, most notably in the meat-processing industry; and (b) a move away from rural settlement in the southwestern part of the country, making states such as North Carolina an attractive location for immigrants.9
Thus, traditionally an unlikely immigrant destination, North Carolina is increasingly home to growing numbers of foreign-born persons, primarily from Mexico, who account for 71.7% of the state's foreign-born population. Between the 1990 and 2000 census, there has been an astounding 273.2% increase in the numbers of immigrants who now reside here. The 1990 census accounted for 115,077 first-generation immigrants; by 2000, this number had risen to 430,000. The amount of increase is the ninth highest in the country whereas the rate of increase is the highest in the country.10
Between 1981 and 2000, meat processing employees across the nation in rural areas doubled from 147,000 to 294,000. Given the importance of the meat processing industry for North Carolina, the state's rural counties have become a magnet for the immigrant labor force. An increasingly educated domestic workforce, hazardous work conditions, high employee turnover and increasing demand for value added meat products are some of the reasons why a migrant labor force is necessary in the hog farming industry.11
Case Study: Labor Issues at Smithfield's Tar Heel Plant
Tar Heel, North Carolina, is the location of the world's largest hog processing facility. Owned by Smithfield Foods Inc., employees there toil to feed and process 32,000 hogs a day. Employment concerns at the Tar Heel plant have risen greatly with the growth in the plant's work force. Problems with worker safety, unionization, and racial tensions plague Tar Heel workers.
Eighty-five percent of the 5,000 employees in the Tar Heel plant are ethnic minorities, and more than half are Latino.12 Smithfield has been able to exploit and intimidate these workers, most of whom cannot speak English.13 Racial tensions are a problem at these plants. According to one ex-plant supervisor, Sherri Buffkin, racial groups were pitted against one another. She was instructed to aggravate tensions between African American and Latino workers by telling Latinos that the union was trying to replace them with an all African American work force.14
Unionization is discouraged. On December 15, 2000, "an Administrative Law Judge issued a 436-page opinion for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) finding that Smithfield committed 'egregious and pervasive' federal labor law violations during two unionizing campaigns at the Tar Heel slaughterhouse in the 1990s."15 The NLRB also ruled they would have to compensate 11 former workers who were fired without reason. The rulings were never enforced due to legalities and lack of petition from the workforce itself.
Aside from these problems, there are also safety concerns. The state has cited and fined the plant several times for serious worker safety violations since it opened in 1992.16
The company contests its poor track record with regard to its workers. A 2003 company report argues that Smithfield has opened a health care facility staffed by bilingual physicians near its Tar Heel Plant. Workers are also given healthcare benefits and the option of having a health plan.17 However, workers don't always use their workers compensation for health care because there is a policy in place that returns unused worker's compensation funds as year-end bonuses. Also, most of the Latino workforce can't afford the $17.00 per week fee for the health care plan.
The sheer number of minority workers looking for stable jobs is very favorable for large companies like Smithfield. The case study of Smithfield's Tar Heel Plant demonstrates some of the concerns that workers face in the hog farming industry. The company will continue to face these issues as long as they encourage an ethnic and racial division of labor and take advantage of the weak power position of marginalized groups - immigrants and African-Americans. These factors finally came to a head when in 2006 over 1,000 mostly Latino workers held a strike to protest against conditions and the firing of illegal immigrants. Unless the company and the industry in general reform their labor policies we can expect to see more labor unrest in the future.
- John D. Kasarda and James H. Johnson, "The Economic Impact of the Hispanic Population on the State of North Carolina," Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Kenan-Flagler Business School, Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, 2006. Last accessed August 16, 2007. [http://www.kenan-flagler.unc.edu/assets/documents/2006_KenanInstitute_HispanicStudy.pdf]
- "Ethnic Population Change," North Carolina Information Atlas, 2004. Last accessed on December 16, 2004; [http://www.ncatlasrevisited.org/Population/ethncpop.html#LatinoPop]
- Sheryl Skaggs, Donald Tomaskovich-Devey and Jeffrey Leiter, "Latino/a Employment Growth in North Carolina: Ethnic Displacement or Replacement?" Raleigh, NC: North Carolina State University, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, 2001. p. 18. Last accessed August 16, 2007. [http://sasw.chass.ncsu.edu/jeff/latinos/eeoc.pdf]
- Skaggs et al., (fn. 2, p. 6).
- Oxfam America, "Like Machines in the Fields: Workers Without Rights in American Agriculture," March 2004. Last accessed December 16, 2004. [http://www.oxfamamerica.org/newsandpublications/publications/research_reports/art7011.html]
- Ann Kiernan, "What is a 'Right to Work' state, and how does that fit with 'at-will' employment?" Last accessed on December 16, 2004; [http://www.fairmeasures.com/asklawyer/questions/ask342.html]
- Elizabeth Jordan, "The State of Working North Carolina" Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Justice Center, 2004. p. 27. Last accessed December 16, 2004. [http://www.ncjustice.org/media/library/41_swnc04.pdf]
- North Carolina Justice Center, "Working Hard is Still Not Enough," May 2003. Last accessed August 16, 2007. [http://www.ncjustice.org/cms/index.php?pid=107]
- William Kandel and Emilio Parrado, "US Industrial Transformation and New Latino Migration." Migration Policy Institute, April 2004. Last accessed December 18, 2004. [http://www.migrationinformation.org/USfocus/display.cfm?ID=217]
- Federation for American Immigration Reform, "Extended Immigration Data on North Carolina," Last accessed August 16, 2007. [http://www.fairus.org/site/PageServer?pagename=research_research8875]
- Kandel and Parrado (fn. 8).
- Kristal Brent Zook, "Hog-Tied: Battling it out (again) at Smithfield Foods," Winter 2003. Last accessed August 16, 2007. [http://www.amnestyusa.org/amnestynow/smithfield.html]
- Sherri Bufkin, "Workers' Freedom of Association: Obstacles to Forming Unions," Testimony, Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, United States Senate, DATE. Last accessed December 16, 2004. [ http://www.ufcw.org/issues_and_actions/justice_at_smithfield/bufkintestimony.cfm]
- Sierra Club. Spoiled Lunch: Polluters Profiting from Federal Lunch Programs. Washington, DC: Sierra Club, 2001.
- Zook (fn. 11).
- Smithfield Foods, "Smithfield Foods, Inc., 2003 Stewardship Report," 2004. p. 64. Last accessed December 16, 2004. [http://www.smithfieldfoods.com/Enviro/Pdf/SFD_StewardshipReport_03.pdf]