When federal immigration agents descended on tiny Stillmore, Ga., to raid Crider Inc., the local chicken processing plant lost 75 percent of its mostly Hispanic work force in one weekend. Many feared for the local economy.
But Crider reacted quickly. It advertised higher wages at the plant, starting at $7 to $9 per hour, and offered free transportation from nearby towns and even free rooms in a company-owned dormitory. Crider also recruited through the state employment office for the first time in years. It managed to keep its plant running, and many local workers found jobs.
But the outcome wasn’t a simple, happy ending. Crider has encountered high turnover, lower productivity and labor disputes from U.S.-born employees, who are more assertive about their workplace rights.
The company remains understaffed by about 300 employees, one-third of its work force before the raids. It’s resorted to busing in felons on probation and residents of a homeless mission to fill the rolls, and recently looked at bringing in Laotian Hmong immigrant workers from Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Bottom line: U.S. workers can be hard to recruit and retain in relatively low-paying, hazardous jobs such as meat processing.