New study says Swift raids improved worker pay, benefits
The aftermath of the 2006 immigration raid on the Swift & Co. meatpacking plant in Hyrum and its five sister plants gives the lie to the oft-repeated assertion that undocumented immigrants do the work no one else wants, a new study of the raids concludes.
The analysis by the Center for Immigration Studies, which describes itself as "animated by a pro-immigrant, low-immigration vision," shows that within several months, the Swift plants targeted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were back at full production with better pay and benefits than before the raids.
The study, authored by Jerry Kammer, a senior research fellow and former journalist who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2006, describes a dangerous and difficult industry that, in spite of high turnover, had come to depend on immigrants willing to work for low pay.
Indeed, the average wages of meatpackers in 2007 were 45 percent lower than in 1980, according to government data, the study says.
Spokesmen for Swift, now known as JBS Swift after its purchase by a Brazilian company in 2007, did not return telephone calls seeking comment about the new analysis, released early Thursday.
At the time of the raids -- in which 1,300 undocumented immigrants, including 158 in Hyrum, were arrested at plants in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas and Utah -- an estimated 23 percent of the Swift meatpackers were undocumented.
The meatpacking company did not provide updated numbers,
but the study concludes that many more U.S. born workers as well as legal refugees now work in the plants.
In the four plants for which the study's author could find information, wages and bonuses rose on average 8 percent with the departure of undocumented immigrants.
In Hyrum, starting pay rose 50 cents an hour to $10.50 an hour, and a $1,500 signing bonus was in place even before the raid, which Swift had been warned about, the study says.
"The workforce at the Hyrum plant remains predominately Latino, though it has been joined by a steadily rising number of Burmese and Somali refugees," Kammer writes.
"Still, it is clear that Swift could do a great deal more to retain workers and lessen disruptions from turnover prompted by working conditions that, to say the least, are dangerous and hard to endure. "
The author makes the case that boosting wages does not result in much of an increase in costs to consumers.
"If the United States adopted a different immigration policy, one that reduced the number of less-educated immigrants entering the country, then it is very possible that wages and benefits would increase and line speeds might slow as Swift and other companies adapted to a change in the supply of labor," Kammer writes.
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