Workers at Meatpacking Plant Must First Overcome Distrust
When she finished eating dinner at the party, Lenora Bruce Bailey sat for a spell on a little wood porch facing Main Street. Two years ago, she had one of the best jobs around: boxing scraps of hog meat at the nearby packing plant. Then she got sick. “They terminated me,” she said. “Took away my health insurance.”
In a nearby room, Raphael Abrego held up his purple and swollen right hand and wondered whether the same might happen to him. He was one of the better cutters on the fast-moving butcher line, but he slipped one day and injured his hand. “I can’t close it,” he said in Spanish, trying to clench bloated fingers.
Bailey is a black, native-born American. Abrego is a Latino immigrant. At Smithfield Packing Co., the largest meat-processing facility in the world, the two think of themselves as being in the same boat.
Recently, they attended a potluck to try to do something that is rare for African Americans and Latino immigrants: come together to fight for workers’ rights.
The union’s difficulties are part of a larger story of distrust between black and Latino workers, a vast cultural divide between immigrants who illegally enter the country seeking work and African Americans who worry that immigrants will take over their jobs, communities and local political power.