April 18, 2006
Yesterday, the New York Times reported that least 21 Mexican workers of Wolverine Packing in Detroit, Mich., were fired when they missed work to attend an immigration rally in March. This harsh punishment follows the passage of a shameful and punitive bill recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives which would criminalize undocumented immigrant workers and anyone who assists them.
“”The fact is that the entire meatpacking industry depends on–and often exploits–the labor of immigrant and undocumented workers, especially when they don’t have a union contract,”” said Mark Lauritsen, Vice President and Director of UFCW’s Food Processing Packing and Manufacturing Division. “”These companies don’t have the luxury of outsourcing jobs to countries where they can exploit workers and ignore labor laws. Instead, they import workers who are unaware of their rights, and they reap huge profits from immigrants who take the hardest, most dangerous jobs in the country.””
It is companies like Wolverine Packing that fuel a disposable workforce by importing, exploiting, and tossing people away. Firing immigrant and undocumented workers when they stand up for human rights is a common tactic employed in the meatpacking industry. It’s a way to maintain a frightened and intimidated workforce, and to create pool of exploitable workers without rights or any means to secure their future.
Throughout the country, numerous unionized meatpacking plants with an immigrant workforce represented by the UFCW chose to go dark on the day of the immigration rallies. It was a move that recognized the fact that without their immigrant workforce, the plants would be unable to function.
Much of the US economy relies on immigrant workers. Immigrant rights are worker rights. As long as companies and Congress try to force second class status on immigrant workers, wages and workplace standards for all American workers will suffer.