NYT Says Immigrants ‘Mourn’ Loss of Deadly, Low-Wage Meatpacking Jobs

In this April 13, 2020, photo, Kulule Amosa steps out of the apartment she shares with her husband who works at the Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, S.D. He tested positive for the coronavirus this week after an outbreak at the plant. (AP Photo/Stephen Groves)
AP Photo/Stephen Groves

Immigrants are “mourning” the loss of low-wage jobs in a Chinese-owned, crowded slaughterhouse run by Smithfield Foods in Sioux Falls, SD, according to an article in the New York Times.

The main character in the story is an immigrant from Sudan who has worked “11-hour days at Smithfield, six times a week for nearly seven years,” says the April 15 article:

“I can’t wait to go back to work for the simple reason that this is the only thing that supports my family,” said Achut Deng, a Sudanese refugee who in six years worked her way up from a “wizard knife” operator paid $12.75 an hour to a shift lead making $18.70. “I do feel sorry for everyone who is going through this [disease], I feel sorry for myself, but it’s like, I feel better now so I’d rather go back to work.”

The Chinese-owned hog disassembly plant has been shut down indefinitely after 600 workers caught the Chinese coronavirus while working alongside each other. 

“Why would lefties be supporting this?” asked Mark Krikorian, the director of the Center for Immigration Studies. “The immigrants are working for low wages in terrible jobs!” The answer is that progressives prefer to pose as the defenders of migrants against claimed threats from ordinary Americans, he said, not from the real economic exploitation by employers.

The article portrays the migrants as suffering heroes, like martyrs, said Ann Corcoran, founder of Refugee Resettlement Watch. “They would never say these things about blacks [who work in slaughterhouses], and they never would say this about white lower-skilled people,” she added. The NYT journalists “are patronizing the [migrants], like children, to make themselves feel good about having them work in these horrible jobs,” she said. 

The article begins by touting the claimed benefits of the pork plant jobs to the imported slaughterhouse workers:

“An immigrant from El Salvador bought a three-bedroom home with a basement for her family. A single mother from Ethiopia sent her daughters to college. A refugee from Sudan bought bunk beds for her boys, new couches and a dining table,” the April 15 article said, and continued:

Before the Smithfield pork factory in Sioux Falls became the radiating core of South Dakota’s coronavirus outbreak, with more than 640 cases linked to the plant, it had been a kind of beacon of American prosperity for tens of thousands of employees who landed on the high prairie from Africa, East Asia and Latin America. But the opportunities were not obtained easily.

They worked side by side in front of speeding conveyor belts and behind vibrating electric knives powerful enough to slice through a hog every 30 to 40 seconds. Many iced their wrists at night and relied on a daily dose of ibuprofen to keep up with the work of slaughtering, processing and packaging pork products for global consumption.

In return, they received wages above the minimum and health benefits that stretched far in a state with a low cost of living, uplifting generations of immigrants who arrived in the United States without formal education or knowledge of the English language.

But workers, many at home battling weekslong fevers and debilitating body aches, are now facing another cruel reality of the virus: They are mourning both their co-workers and the jobs that made them sick.

With looming bills and the expectations of family members in the United States and abroad whom they support with their pay from Smithfield, many say they are eager to return to their jobs, including the double shifts they routinely put in over six and even seven days a week.

The NYT article shows little disapproval of the terrible conditions and pay, not even in the case of one worker killed by the virus:

One worker, Agustin Rodriguez, 64, died this week after contracting the virus. Mr. Rodriguez, an immigrant from El Salvador who cut pork feet at the factory, was active in his church; he lived in a trailer but was in the process of buying a home.

“He was a very friendly, respectful person,” said José Lopez, a former Smithfield worker who had been a break room buddy of Mr. Rodriguez, adding: “I have many friends who tested positive. This virus really hit us badly.”

Yet many workers said that the grueling work at the plant, before the virus hit, had offered them a life that otherwise would never have been possible as immigrants and refugees.

The article ignores the American workers at the Sioux Falls mill and instead lauds migrants and refugees, most of whom are assigned jobs at the slaughterhouse by the government-funded refugee settlement groups that bring them into the United States as refugees:

For many of the workers, risk is nothing new. They fled war, food insecurity or ethnic persecution to reach the United States. Though they have seen colleagues crushed by fast-moving machinery, toppled by greasy floors and burned by powerful cleaning agents, many say they consider the job a privilege.

A prior generation of reporters described the terrible decline in working conditions at the slaughterhouses, said Corcoran. But today’s reporters praise the migrants and ignore the Americans who are willing to work these jobs for decent pay, she said:

The wages were much higher 40 years ago, before all this started. Americans loved this work — a woman I met said she raised her kids [while working] in Colorado, and it was a great jobs that you wanted because the salary was good — until the meatpackers discovered the immigrant labor, both the illegal and the refugee labor.

Establishment journalists are now eager to downplay the painful impact of cheap migrant labor on Americans, Corcoran said. “The reporters are basically working for these globalist companies, for Brazil’s JBS [USA Holdings] and for China’s Smithfield Foods [in Sioux Falls]. They are carrying the water because they want more immigration. They are willing to overlook these workplace conditions, and that Americans would do these jobs if they paid enough — as they did at one time.”

The reporters’ underlying message is that the migrants’ pain and labor are worth trading to get more diversity, said Krikorian. “These holier-than-thou-types [are] saying ‘We are doing such a good thing by letting them in the country, when it is, in fact, horrible work, but it is all so good in the end because we get diversity.'”

Like in many other pro-migration articles, the NYT reporters use food to illustrate the diversity:

After hours on the factory floor, they had gathered around communal tables in the crowded and boisterous lunchrooms, sharing sambusa from Sudan, egg rolls from China, tibs and injera from Ethiopia. They told stories that reflect different paths to the United States, yet struggles that were much the same.

But the reporters downplay the reality that diversity divides employees and makes them powerless against centralized, strong corporations:

“This company does a lot of things when it comes to families, supporting families,” Ms. Deng said. “Most of them, they don’t know how to speak English, they don’t know how to read, where can they go after that? Where can they go and provide for the needs of their families?”

The article is an inversion of Upton Sinclair’s 1906 muckraking novel, The Jungle, said Krikorian. The novel described the nightmarish working conditions of European migrants employed in Chicago’s meatpacking plants, and it helped set off a wave of pro-employee reforms that minimized wage-lowering migration, set 40-hour weeks, and ensured decent pay for ordinary workers. Krikorian continued:

When ‘The Jungle’ was written, these reporters would have been speaking out against the meatpackers. Yet they’re writing and covering a situation very similar to ‘The Jungle,’ but because it is very specifically tied to the immigation debate — they are happy to be on the other side. They are the journalistic equivalent of the toughs hired by management to keep the workers in line.

“For about forty years in the middle of the twentieth century, from the 1930s to the 1970s, meatpacking workers’ pay and conditions improved,” said a 2005 report by Human Rights Watch. The report, titled “Blood, Sweat, and Fear,” continued:

Master contracts covering the industry raised wages and safety standards. In the 1960s and 1970s, meatpacking workers’ pay and conditions approximated those of auto, steel, and other industrial laborers who worked hard in their plants and through their unions to attain steady jobs with good wages and benefits. Meatpackers’ wages remained substantially higher than the average manufacturing sector wage-15 percent higher in 1960, 19 percent higher in 1970, 17 percent higher in 1980.

In 1983, meatpacking workers’ pay fell below the average U.S. manufacturing wage for the first time. Since then, the decline has accelerated-15 percent lower in 1985, 18 percent lower in 1990, 24 percent lower in 2002.

“Immigrants want the same things that other people in their position want,” said Krikorian. “Stable employment, rising wages if possible, social harmony, and opportunity for their kids … but mass immigration without strong assimilation pressures doesn’t lead to those outcomes.”

The NYT article is “a remarkable example of journalists comforting the comfortable, rather than they afflicting [the comfortable], which is what they imagine their jobs,” Krikorian said. “They are fooling themselves; they are imagining they are afflicting the comfortable, when in fact, they are — for the most part — the unwitting tools of capital.”

Politics “is never just about power and money,” added Krikorian. “It is also about feeling virtuous, about feeling it is the right thing to do because that shows that they are the good people.”

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