The Wall Street Journal ran an informative article today on the effect of a major ICE raid upon employer – employee relations. Evan Pérez and Corey Dade wrote the article. I posted on the raid of Crider Inc., a Stillmore, GA, poultry plant in May, 2006. The WSJ article describes the before and after:
BEFORE: employees mostly Hispanic. Workers provided company housing. Black employment since late 1990s had declined from 70% to 16%. High productivity, poor benefits and working conditions, and few employee complaints. Wages barely above minimum wage. Parking lot wage payments, in which checks were issued and immediately cashed by the employee, preventing any record of employment history. I infer that worker savings probably sent to Mexico.
AFTER: Wages increased 30% – 50%. Workforce is 65% black, 30% white, 5% Hispanic. Workers provided company housing. Much of workforce converted to independent recruiting contractor status and/or engaged through employee hiring firm. Productivity sags 10%. More complaints about worker health and safety. Labor shortages. Company searches across U.S. for people willing to work, such as Hmong migrant workers. I infer that worker savings now put into local housing, cars.
NATIONALLY, WHAT A GUEST WORKER PROGRAM WOULD DO: Boost wages by at least 30%. Prohibit independent contractor abuses. Better health and safety. Remove vulnerability of Hispanic workers to fear of deportation. Worker shortages. More investment in technology to reduce workforces.
Excerpts from the article, with some notes by me:
Do immigrant workers lower pay and working conditions? At Crider, yes. — PFR
The sudden reversal of economic fortunes in Stillmore underscores some of the most complex aspects of the pitched debate over immigration: Do illegal immigrants take jobs from low-skilled American workers? The answer in Stillmore initially appeared to be yes.
But in the months since Crider began hiring hundreds of African-Americans, the answer has become more complex. The plant has struggled with high turnover among black workers, lower productivity and pay disputes between the new employees and labor contractors. The allure of compliant Latino workers willing to accept grueling conditions despite rock-bottom pay has proved a difficult habit for Crider to shake, particularly because the local, native-born workers who replaced them are more likely to complain about working conditions and aggressively assert what they believe to be legal pay and workplace rights.
The company was “taken aback” when federal agents showed up in May asserting that about 700 of its workers were suspected of having false work documents, Mr. Purtle says. Two Crider employees were among four men arrested for allegedly running a document mill, churning out fake green cards and other fake documents.
The story of Germaine Royals, an African-American, who was hired then fired by Crider — PFR
For Mr. Royals, the new opportunities at Crider amounted to a windfall after months of erratic work through a temporary labor agency. A high-school dropout who earned his General Education Diploma two years ago, Mr. Royals previously worked nights at a succession of factory jobs. He had just been laid off for the second time in a month when Ms. Germain Paulk came home with word of the Crider recruiter.
Mr. Royals went to Crider with a plan to work as many hours as possible — he sometimes worked 17 hours a day — and earn enough to save for a new home and pay off bills. His wife recently took a full-time job as a private nurse for an elderly woman and attends classes at a technical college to earn a license as a practical nurse.
But for some of the African-American workers who surged into the plant, the unexpected chance to work at Crider didn’t turn out well. They described long, arduous schedules, alleged health and safety hazards, and unrelenting supervisors. A Crider spokeswoman says the allegations are the sentiment of “people who are not intent on working.”
Payroll abuse by Crider – PFR:
Since the illegal immigrants were run out of the plant, Crider no longer directly employs many entry-level workers. Instead, Mr. Royals and many others are classified as independent contractors, working under an agreement between Crider and Allen Peacock, an African-American owner of a recruiting business.
Every Friday, Mr. Peacock pulled into the parking lot of the dormitory complex and handed out checks, most of which he cashed on the spot — leaving his employees with no documentation of how much they received in wages or paid in taxes, according to several workers.
After a few weeks on the job, Mr. Royals and other black workers claimed Mr. Peacock was short changing them on hours worked. They said taxes were being deducted even though workers never filled out federal and state tax forms. At one point, Ms. Paulk, Mr. Royals’s wife, telephoned Mr. Peacock and demanded an explanation about the paychecks.
Mr. Peacock denied mishandling their wages. “Everybody has to pay taxes,” he said in an interview. Mr. Peacock said his workers were all being fully paid and that their taxes were properly collected.
Despite his frustrations, Mr. Royals vowed to keep working. But one morning, Mr. Peacock arrived at the Crider dormitory complex and several workers gathered to register their complaints about wages. In front of the other employees, Mr. Royals says, Mr. Peacock fired him.
Since the raids, African-Americans have made up about 65% of Crider’s work force, while whites are 30% and Hispanics 5%, according to the company. Turnover has been high. The population of workers hired since last September’s immigration raids has turned over three times, according to Crider.
Workers shortage persist — PFR
Still struggling to fill its ranks, Crider began busing in felons on probation from a state prison and residents of a homeless mission from nearby Macon. Crider also hired another labor contractor who specializes in Hispanic workers. But Crider is still about 300 people short of its work force before the immigration raids. It is now bringing Laotian Hmong immigrant workers and their families from Minnesota and Wisconsin, with hopes that they’ll stay on the job and build new roots in Stillmore.