News from the Tennessee Valley Business

‘Sending them back’ causes problems

“Send them back where they came from.”

Since The Daily first reported that a foreign-born, Hispanic Wayne Farms worker had active tuberculosis disease, I’ve received dozens of e-mails and phone calls with that message.

For the moment, let’s assume that every Hispanic working at the Wayne Farms fresh processing plant is an illegal immigrant. What would happen if we “sent them back where they came from”?

The plant employs 849, and most are Hispanic, according to Wayne Farms spokesman Frank Singleton.

If the plant is to remain operating in Morgan County under our assumption, therefore, it will need to find more than 400 workers from the legal work force. That may prove difficult.

According to Wayne Farms sales and marketing director Stan Hayman, maintaining a fully staffed facility is a constant issue. “We are always hiring,” he said. Indeed, Wayne Farms has gone to considerable expense to create a workplace that accommodates those who do not speak English.

They have done so because, absent Spanish-speaking workers, they could not fully staff the facility at the $9.50 wages they offer.

Add to this the fact that “disassembling chickens,” as Wayne Farms quaintly refers to it, is unpleasant work. Given a choice between jobs of similar pay, most would choose a different one.

And then one more factor. At last count, Morgan County’s unemployment rate was 3.2 percent.

Everyone who is willing to work is doing so, or is in the process of switching from one job to another.

No problem, right? Wayne Farms just needs to increase its wages.

Wayne Farms already is paying about the same wages as its many domestic competitors. If it increases its wages, it must increase the price of its product.

If it increases the price of its product, it will no longer be able to compete with those competitors. End result: Wayne Farms closes the plant.

So we’ll broaden our assumption. Most U.S. poultry plants rely heavily on foreign-born workers, so we’ll assume all of them are illegal, and we’ll send them all back where they came from. The Wayne Farms plant stays in Morgan County, and U.S. chicken meat prices go up.

The problem is that our border, porous as it relates to people, is nonexistent as it relates to trade.

In the wake of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Wayne Farms can simply move its plant to Mexico and ship the finished product north.

Many of its competitors have already done so.

More probably will as Mexico’s problems with avian flu subside, and as the price of U.S. corn, used as chicken feed, rises.

Lose Wayne Farms, of course, and we lose the chicken farmers and suppliers.

We also lose a lot of tax dollars.

Before we “send them all back where they came from,” we would be wise to study the consequences.

Contact Eric Fleischauer at

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