Our VoiceImmigration

Another CIS Charade Ignores the Power of the UFCW at JBS/Swift

Rev. David L. Ostendorf • Mar 18, 2009

Today the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies (CIS)—an offshoot of the unabashedly anti-immigrant Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)—reports that since the massive ICE raids on JBS/Swift meatpacking plants in late 2006 wages have risen and safety has improved because the company has hired more “authorized” workers to replace those undocumented employees taken in the ICE action.

This is akin to reporting that the sun rose this morning because it is March 18. The correlation is, to put it mildly, fleeting.

As of late 2008 all JBS/Swift plants in the U.S. are union shops—a factor of extraordinarily more import for all the company’s workers (regardless of their residency status) than the aftermath of the ICE raids. In December some 1,100 workers at the last non-union Swift plant in Hyrum, Utah voted overwhelmingly to join Local 711 of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), making the unionized Brazilian company a rarity among the red meat processing industry in the U.S. and bringing its workers into a new era.

Documented or undocumented, “authorized” or “unauthorized,” Swift workers are doing better because they are employed in plants organized by the UFCW, not because the company had a sudden change in its hiring policies brought on by the imperious raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The CIS charade attempts to pin blame for low wages, as usual, on undocumented immigrants. Meatpacking wages did, indeed, begin to decline in the mid-1980s when the industry broke union influence and contracts and returned to its hundred-year pattern of hiring low-wage immigrants, workers of color, and other U.S. workers whose residency or citizenship then or now meant nothing to an industry bent on profitability.

Undocumented workers did not drive down wages or contribute to the soaring rates of injuries—the meatpacking companies did it all on their own as they moved to the nation’s heartland, consolidated, and ran rough-shod over workers, host communities, and state and federal agencies responsible for wage and safety enforcement. To ignore this basic reality is to be grounded in CIS fantasy and to know nothing of the real history of the meatpackers since they perfected their immigrant- and race-based hiring patterns and operations on Chicago’s South Side in the late nineteenth century.

One wonders where CIS comes up with these notions, dresses them up in the hands of a “Pulitzer Prize” winning former reporter, and casts them off to any audience gullible enough to deem the organization a credible source of “immigration studies.“ Readers ought not be surprised that the report’s author has a long-standing penchant for quoting CIS’ Mark Krikorian in Copley news stories that go back years. Now that the author is a “Senior Research Fellow” at CIS we have to wonder what other charades the anti-immigrant spin-off of FAIR has up its sleeves in the days ahead. This one is a dead starter.

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