A Case Study of the Smithfield Plant
In January 2007, the Smithfield Plant in Tar Heel, N.C. was raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This raid drastically changed the demographics of the plant, shifting from a mostly illegal Hispanic workforce to a legal African American workforce. The plant’s workers were able to unionize in the aftermath, something the previous workforce had failed to do twice prior to the raid.
Jerry Kammer, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, has examined the circumstances surrounding the raid and the plant’s unionization. In “Immigration Raids at Smithfield: How an ICE Enforcement Action Boosted Union Organizing and the Employment of American Workers,” Kammer gives an overview of events before the unionization and insights into the varied reasons workers were able to solidify backing for the union. The report is online at http://cis.org/SmithfieldImmigrationRaid-Unionization.
The sequence of events includes:
- The Smithfield Plant, represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), failed to unionize in both 1994 and 1997. An administrative law judge found that the company committed “egregious and pervasive violations of labor law” during the 1997 effort when it used the employees’ illegal status to threaten them.
- After the initial attempts at unionizing, Smithfield and the UFCW engaged in a bitter dispute. The union launched a public relations campaign and picketed Smithfield customers. Smithfield, in return, filed a federal racketeering lawsuit against the union.
- The ICE raid, which took place in January 2007, both purged the plant of illegal workers and forced the management to set procedures to check immigration status of future hires.
- The raid opened the door for an American and legal immigrant workforce. After the raid, the Hispanic workforce dropped by approximately 1,000 workers and was replaced by mostly African American workers. Less than two years later, in December 2008, the new workforce voted for unionization.
The Center for Immigration Studies is an independent research institute that examines the impact of immigration on the United States.