The CCP Virus has created a U.S. meatpacking industry crisis that’s revealed any number of ugly truths about the sector – notably its horrendous safety record and its related, heavy reliance on exploitable illegal alien labor. Put them together and, along with President Trump’s executive order mandating that such facilities stay open even though their owners’ deficient efforts to protect employees against virus infection could expose them to fatal risks, it looks like a story of exploitation of an especially vulnerable group of workers by a ruthless industry and the White House – and all because the industry can’t supply Americans’ needs without engaging in medieval practices.
Much less recognized – and in fact virtually ignored: The meatpackers’ chronically callous treatment of their workforces, the resulting infections and deaths, and the companies’ difficulties in meeting customer demand during the current emergency because of forced closures or various durations, owe largely to decades of Open Borders-friendly pre-Trump U.S. immigration policies.
Specifically, the easy availability of illegal alien labor has enabled the companies both to neglect worker safety (because employees worried about deportation are unlikely to report problems to government agencies, and because complainers and organizers can be so readily replaced), and to avoid productivity-enhancing investments in machinery and equipment. Why should they if costs can be kept so low by hiring illegals? As a result, it’s remained necessary for the packers to expose workers to inherently dangerous processing work, and the U.S. economy’s potential for wealth-creation is undermined.
The use of illegal alien labor as a crutch that substituted for productivity-enhancing investment becomes clear as can be by looking at the industry’s productivity performance. The relevant U.S. government figures only go back to 1987, but that’s a great starting point. After all, the year before, President Reagan signed into law an amnesty that not only legitimized the presence of those illegal immigrants already living in the United States, but clearly sent the message that future illegals would likely be amnestied at some future date, too. As a result, the best estimates hold that the illegal population in the United States soared during the 1990s.
These official figures measure changes in labor productivity, which gauge how many units of output can be turned out by one worker each hour on the job, and are a good indicator for business investment. If labor productivity is rising strongly, chances are that the industry in question is buying lots of machinery and equipment and software and the like in order to replace workers, to make them more efficient, of some combination of the two. If labor productivity growth is underwhelming, chances are little such spending is occurring.
(As known by RealityChek regulars, the federal government monitors another form of productivity – multifactor productivity. As implied by the name, it measures output as a function of many different inputs, including capital and technology and new materials as well as labor. Unfortunately, this more comprehensive look at productivity isn’t produced on as timely a basis, and the industry categories measured are broader.)
The labor productivity statistics show that, from 1987 to 2018, efficiency according to this measure in the broad animal slaughtering and processing category increased by a total of 13.48 percent. If you think that sounds unimpressive over a three-decade span, you’re right – especially when this performance is compared with that of manufacturing overall and of the non-durables super-category in which animal slaughtering is found.
But animal slaughtering’s record looks even worse next to that of manufacturing overall. Between 1987 and 2019, output per person hour worked in industry generally rose by 121.02 percent.
The claim that meatpacking has chosen to exploit cheap illegal immigrant labor rather than boost profits by improving productivity looks all the stronger when the records of different kinds of packers are examined. The figures show there’s a major difference between poultry processors on the one hand, and beef and pork processors on the other.
By all accounts, poultry processors heavily use illegal alien labor, too. But they’ve also automated much more than beef and pork plants – in part because their facilities are smaller and therefore easier to automate, but also, it seems, because they’re more innovative and entrepreneurial. And these differences are borne out in the labor productivity data.
As noted above, labor productivity in animal slaughtering and processing in total improved by only 13.48 percent between 1987 and 2018. But for poultry processors, it jumped by 103.20 percent.
And there’s a clear CCP Virus angle at work as well. No doubt because they’re more automated, poultry plants have experienced fewer virus-related work closures and production halts or slowdowns than have the beef and pork processors. In fact, this tally of affected plants from a new study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contains many fewer mentions of poultry facilities, and both their infection and death rates seem considerably lower, than those in the beef and pork sectors. Moreover, the four states with by far the biggest infection problems (measured as a percentage of workers sickened) are Iowa, South Dakota, Washington, and Wisconsin. None of them lists an affected poultry plant.
There can’t be any question that, until the CCP Virus crisis passes, the keys to restoring the national meat supply chain’s functionality in a way that doesn’t take a fearsome toll on workers will be to combine the Trump administration’s stay open orders with equally strong and sweeping requirements that the companies prioritize employee safety. But it should also be clear that, over the longer run, if Americans don’t want a meatpacking industry that cruelly exploits a largely illegal alien workforce and is therefore dangerously vulnerable to pandemics, it will make sure the companies don’t find it so easy to hire so many illegal aliens to begin with.