The nation's meat supply chain is threatened by meatpacking plant shutdowns due to Covid-19 outbreaks among employees. But the Costco plant in Freemont, Nebraska has thus far had only one employee confirmed with the virus (according to MeatPoultry.com) and is humming at full speed.
The reason -- suggests Neil Munro, perhaps the nation's most aggressive pro-worker journalist -- may be a business model that places more value on the well-being of its employees, including making sure that the jobs are filled by LEGAL workers.
The Costco corporation is a participant in the E-Verify program. And the city of Freemont is a longtime national leader in fighting illegal immigration through rental regulations and E-Verify mandate.
I have long maintained that when you find a business willing to break the law by hiring illegal foreign workers, you are likely also to find a business that treats its employees shabbily and tends to break other laws about safety, hours and wages, environmental regulations, taxes.
In my book THE CASE AGAINST IMMIGRATION, published by W.W. Norton & Co., I wrote extensively about my research on the way the readily available workforce of illegal migrants and the expanded refugee programs had caused the collapse of a strong middle-class meatcutter occupation into one in which many of the workers' families could qualify for welfare (scroll to Page 141).
Munro pulled together his fascinating story from Nebraska, national and industry publications and his own interviews. In his story in Breitbart this week, Munro quoted our head of Government Relations about the state of most of the meatpacking industry as it struggles with the spread of Covid-19 among its laborforce:
'We have basically a policy of lowering labor costs at all costs, and now we're paying the price because we have all these labor-intensive industries that are paying dirt wages and putting their employees at risk,' said Rosemary Jenks, policy director at Numbers USA.
But in an industry which has a 40-year history of driving down wages and working conditions by violating laws against hiring illegal migrants, Costco is a happy outlier, Munro reports.
The good news, however, is found in Fremont, Nebraska, where Costco built a highly automated meatpacking plant in which two shifts of roughly 400 employees will produce two million chickens per day, mostly for West Coast customers of Costco's $4.99 roasted chicken.
'The technology has enabled us to do a lot of things -- use fewer people, and eliminate the harder jobs -- and it has taken away some of the dissatisfaction that people have seen in [meatpacking] jobs,' said Jessica Kolterman, spokeswoman for Costco's Lincoln Premium Poultry subsidiary.
I am particularly drawn to the idea of actually eliminating "the harder jobs" which have made meatpacking work among the most dangerous in the country since it ceased being dominated by native-born workers. Once the corporations had busted the unions, cut wages by half or more, and achieved a mostly foreign-born laborforce, they sped up the lines and increased the injuries for workers that they could easily replace with the constant flow of foreign workers that the U.S. government either provided legally or allowed illegally.
Costco's alternative appears to be to use mechanization to greatly increase the productivity per worker, remove many of the worst hazards of the job and provide wages, vacations, health care that return the jobs to the middle-class status they had achieved after the Great Depression and before Congress opened the floodgates of mass immigration in the 1970s and beyond.
And here's a point that the open-borders promoters may tend to miss: The LEGAL workers being helped the most by all of this are predominantly foreign-born or the children of immigrants.
ROY BECK is Founder & CEO of NumbersUSA
Updated: Thu, Apr 30th 2020 @ 2:05pm EDT