Poultry plant operations back to normal after Alabama protest

by Staff
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ALBERTVILLE, Ala. — On Oct. 13, Hispanic-owned businesses and poultry plants reopened and children returned to school following a one-day work stoppage to protest Alabama's new law on illegal immigration, The Associated Press reported. Although government officials said the demonstration had no significant economic impact, participants said they wanted to demonstrate the importance of their labor and dollars to the state.

In Albertville, which is about one-third Hispanic, customers trickled into stores and restaurants along Main St. that were closed one day earlier due to the protest, which was promoted primarily through Spanish-language radio stations and Facebook.

Meanwhile, Gov. Robert Bentley unveiled a new initiative — called Work Alabama — designed to link employers who have temporary jobs in agriculture, poultry processing, construction and other industries with people seeking those types of jobs. The program was a response to jobs opening up because of the new law.

Signing what he termed the toughest immigration law in the country, Bentley said he believes there are people living legally in Alabama who will fill those jobs. He said it's “almost insulting” to say that Alabamians aren't willing to put in a hard day's work doing manual labor for reasonable pay.

Lindsey Lyons, Albertville Mayor, said only one of the 40 businesses closed for the day was among the city's larger retailers, so the impact of the protest was “very minimal” on the city of 19,000.

Although approximately six poultry plants either shut down or slowed work because of a lack of Hispanic workers, one industry official said a one-day closing wasn't enough to cost operators much money. The state's industry — which processes 21 million birds on average in a week — will make up work on otherwise slow days or a Saturday, said Ray Hilburn, a spokesman for the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association.

Wayne Farms, a major poultry producer that shut down its Albertville processing plant because of the work stoppage, has lost 17 of 850 workers at its Albertville plant and 125 out of about 2,000 in Decatur because of the law, said spokesman Frank Singleton.

It was impossible to say whether any US citizens have filled jobs that were vacated by illegal immigrants because of the law, Singleton said, which Republican supporters say was meant to increase employment among legal residents.

“Turnover is typically high in these jobs, and [the law] may have made it a little higher,” he said. “But I don't think you can draw a parallel between this law giving people jobs who wouldn't have gotten them otherwise.”

Bentley also has created a team of business leaders — representing industries that employee thousands of manual laborers — to make recommendations on how the state can better assist people looking for jobs, as well as help these types of companies grow and thrive.
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