US meat packers, union seek new visa allowing year-round workers

Wed May 8, 2013 3:28pm EDT
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* Senate committee to debate immigation bill on Thursday

* About 480,000 workers at 6,300 U.S. meat plants

* Plants struggle to find applicants for grueling work

By Charles Abbott

WASHINGTON, May 8 (Reuters) - Foreign workers could gain visas for year-round work in U.S. meat processing plants under a proposal by the meat industry and the meatpackers union for immigration reform designed to create a steady supply of workers for slaughterhouses.

The proposal, expected to be part of the Senate immigration bill, would help assure a stable workforce, said industry and union officials on Wednesday. The Senate Judiciary Committee was to begin debate on the bill on Thursday.

There was no immediate estimate of how many jobs might be filled by foreign workers. Around 480,000 people work at 6,300 meat and poultry plants nationwide, according to a trade group.

Over the past couple of decades, meat packers have moved plants away from cities such as Chicago, and have drawn foreign-born workers, especially Hispanics, to rural communities. Industry officials say it is hard to recruit enough workers. They would prefer three-year visas that can be renewed.

"These are not seasonal jobs. Many of these jobs take a lot of training to do the job properly," said Barry Carpenter of the Food Manufacturers Immigration Coalition of livestock producers and processors. "There's a big safety-training factor as well."   Continued...