by Greg Martinez
There is an old saying that it is best not to know how sausages are made. They aren’t as appetizing when you see they are made with significant amounts of blood, guts, organs, and head meat. The same can be said for the meat industry itself. Most of us don’t want to know much about slaughterhouses where thousands of animals are killed every day to satisfy our hunger for meat. It is exactly this revulsion by the general public toward the meat industry that allows them to exploit their largely Latino employees.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service estimates that 25% of the slaughterhouse workers in Nebraska and Iowa are illegal immigrants. At some slaughterhouses the proportion is much higher. The work is dirty and monotonous. Meatpacking is the most dangerous job in America. At least 29% of meat workers suffer injury or illness compared to less than 10% for the rest of the manufacturing sector. Workers face danger from the equipment used to slaughter animals and process meat, exposure to dangerous pathogens such as E. Coli in animal intestines, and even falling animal carcasses.
At one time, meat packing jobs used to be good paying union jobs with benefits like health insurance. The popularity of fast food, like McDonalds, has greatly increased the demand for beef. The beef industry has reacted by becoming brutally efficient and therefore consolidating so that four companies now control over 80% of the market. Many slaughterhouses have been moved from the city to rural areas. As the companies have grown stronger, unions have become weaker.
Meat packing companies actually recruit workers from Mexico with Spanish-language radio, TV, and newspaper ads. Some companies even bus workers to their plants in rural areas. A wage of $10 per hour seems incredible to people from rural areas in Mexico where wages are typically about $7 per day. Mexican workers, long accustomed to toiling in the fields, are good workers. They work hard and don’t complain, challenge authority, unionize, or otherwise stick up for their rights.
In one of the most heinous cases, a company, by the name of Agriprocessors, was raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in May of 2008 when 400 undocumented workers were arrested. It was the largest immigration raid ever. The raid was triggered by reports of falsified identification. There were also allegations of physical and sexual abuse of the workers and violations of child labor and minimum wage laws. Agriprocessors was once the largest Kosher slaughterhouse in America. The raid cost them nearly half of their workforce and began a final downward spiral that led to the bankruptcy of the company and a 27-year sentence for their CEO, Sholom Rubashkin, on charges of bank fraud. Rubashkin was found not guilty on the child labor and immigration law violations
The next time you think about going to McDonalds, you may want to think about what went into that Big Mac and it may not be so appetizing.
Staff Writer, Greg Martinez
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.