Refugees are vital to the workforce in California’s Poultry Plants

Al Souki leaves home for his shift at a Foster Farms chicken processing plant. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Cindy Carcamo for the Los Angeles Times reports that, in California, most of the meatpacking industry is located in the Central Valley. It has become one of the biggest employers for refugee resettlement agencies and other nonprofits aiding the population in those areas.  Middle Eastern refugees are now an important part of the meatpacking industry’s workforce. The article focuses on several poultry workers including Al Souki who fled war-torn Syria and worked backbreaking 12-hour shifts in his home country and Jordan before making his way to the United States.

Refugees have increasingly become vital workers in an industry with high turnover. And the growing unrest and bloodshed in the Middle East and elsewhere have readily supplied them in places like the Central Valley.

The refugee and immigrant populations ”certainly have been a significant part, an integral part of our workforce for decades,” said Tom Super, a spokesman for the National Chicken Council.

It’s difficult to know exactly how many refugees work in this occupation but roughly one-third of workers in the industry in 2010 were foreign-born, according to a peer-reviewed article in Choices, a publication of the Agricultural and Applied Economics Assn., a nonprofit that serves those who work in agricultural and broadly related fields of applied economics.

Most of the meatpacking industry is located in the California’s Central Valley. It’s become one of the biggest employers for refugee resettlement agencies and other nonprofits aiding the population in those areas. Immigrants have long been integral to the meatpacking industry, but refugees surfaced as a key labor force starting in 2006, according to experts who study the phenomenon. For more on this story, click here.

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