Meet the Exploited Undocumented Workers Behind Your Bacon Purchase
Despite many of the horrors that undercover pork plant investigations bring to light, the demand for pig products continues. According to Indy Star, Indiana Packers Corp. (IPC), which is jointly owned by Mitsubishi Corp. and Itoham Foods Inc., processes 3.5 million pounds of fresh pork daily and exports its products to (mostly) midwest United States, Japan and Mexico. The plant in Delphi, Indiana is also expanding: 43,000 square feet in a $40.6 million expansion that will create 91 new jobs. And, based on the contents of a new lawsuit, many of these jobs could have been filled by undocumented workers.
“Many Workers Openly Admit They are Illegal”
The lawsuit filed by former employee Andrew O’Shea is seeking class-action status in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana against Marisol Martinez, a human resources employee, and James Harding, the director of IPC human resources, reports Indy Star. According to the lawsuit, Martinez and Harding hired hundreds of undocumented workers with fake Social Security numbers and identification cards over four years.
The lawsuit also claims that the HR professionals failed to verify employer histories and that Martinez would fill out the employer portion of applicants’ I-9 forms for them during orientation. The former employee adds that everyone knew about the practice in the company, claiming, “Many workers openly admit they are illegal, or were working under false identities, and/or had previously worked at IPC under a different name,” reports Indy Star. O’Shea also argues that the widespread practice of hiring undocumented workers depressed everyone’s wages.
The Undocumented Workers We Never See
While IPC’s case is still developing, the truth is that the industry relies heavily on undocumented workers. While many were outraged that Canada considered allowing Syrian refugees in to work in slaughterhouses, no one really bats an eye when these workers come from Latin America (even though these people are often escaping hardships comparable to any refugee). These animal processing plants abuse animals, but they often exploit undocumented workers, too.
According to Popular Resistance, the industry needs undocumented workers because they keep wages low and, most importantly, they can’t unionize. When undocumented workers at Smithfield tried to join a union, Smithfield called Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to report the company’s own immigration violations — a strategy that other animal processing plants would later adopt.
Just like the billions of non-human animals on factory farms who we never see (why else would “Escaped Pig/Cow” stories ever make headlines?), our society doesn’t see these undocumented workers. Here is a short glimpse into their lives from Popular Resistance:
Fatigue, repetitive-motion injuries, serious accidents on the job, and high turnover followed. One IBP manager considered an average annual turnover rate of 96 percent at a plant ‘low,’ showing how little the corporation cared to provide labor dignified enough conditions to keep workers on the job.
This example doesn’t even account for the mental and emotional toll that this work can have on people.
Sadly, conditions for undocumented workers have improved little from a 2005 Human Rights Watch report. The 2005 report called for “large scale changes to health and safety and workers’ compensation regulations and practices and greater protection of workers’ rights to organize, in particular that of immigrant workers, throughout the meat and poultry industry.” In 2016, we’re not even close to seeing these necessary large scale changes.
Please sign and share this petition urging Indiana Packers Corp. to investigate the claims in the lawsuit against its human resources professionals. If hundreds of undocumented workers were hired over four years at the plant, then hundreds of workers were most likely exploited, too.
Photo Credit: United States Department of Agriculture