Meat+Poultry - July 2020 - 30

C O V I D - 1 9 U P D AT E

LABOR
PAINS

In the wake of closures and ongoing absenteeism,
processors are focusing on recruitment and retention
BY L U K A S S O U T H A R D | m e a t p o u l t r y @ s o s l a n d.c o m

T
"One of the big
challenges is
also competing
with the
generous
unemployment
compensation
that is in
place now."
- CHRIS YOUNG

MEAT+ POULTRY | 07.20 | www.meatpoultry.com

Staffing meat production plants has always
been a challenge due to the hard work in
often harsh conditions - especially for some
of the smaller plants who compete with the
larger packers, said Chris Young, executive
director of the American Association of Meat
Processors, Elizabethtown, Pa.
"With the pandemic, it has become a
greater challenge because we are much
busier, so the job hours have become longer
in the same conditions," he said. "One of
the big challenges is also competing with
the generous unemployment compensation
that is in place now. Nobody wants to come
back to work and are willing to wait until the
unemployment runs out."
Seaboard Triumph Foods (STF) operates
one of the industry's newer pork processing
plants, located in Sioux City, Iowa, and it
employs more than 2,400 people. Even as
unemployment hit record highs, the nature of
the coronavirus outbreak has made hiring a
challenge for processors like STF.
STF officials said that due to local and state
travel restrictions the recruitment pool has

Smithfield Foods

30

he coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has
challenged meat packers, and the workers
who keep the country's meat and poultry
processing lines moving, perhaps more than
any other manufacturing industry.
As the virus has moved slowly out of some
of the early hotspots in densely populated
urban areas, it has spread into rural areas
that support most of the country's food
manufacturing. Meat processing plants have
seen temporary closures and fast-moving
outbreaks of the virus due to the nature of how
the work is done. Some packers have had to
ramp up hiring and evaluate how to incentivize
production staffs to continue to work by
providing more testing, safety protocols, and
enhancing benefit structures.
Employment numbers in food
manufacturing by the Bureau of Labor and
Statistics shows the stark change in the job
market. In March, the non-farm jobs report
showed just 1,500 fewer jobs than February
and 17,200 jobs more than March 2019. By
April, food manufacturing had lost 86,300 more
jobs and another 24,900 in May.


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Meat+Poultry - July 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Meat+Poultry - July 2020

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