Conditions of poultry labor a vexing problem

By Staff
Nov. 7, 2001
FOREST For years as the publisher of the newspaper of record in Scott County, I learned to take a great deal of pride in the poultry industry. Directly or indirectly, the Mississippi poultry industry of which Scott County is the heart employs over 12,000 people here in growing, trucking, production, shipping and ancillary services.
In many ways, it's a great Mississippi success story. But there's another side to the story as well a dark, ugly side.
Disagreements between poultry producers and growers have made the headlines for several years. But there is another vexing problem production labor.
The work is hard. The hours are long. The wages and of late the profits are low. As the production demand increased over the last two decades and with the advent of further processing (turning a whole bird into frozen microwaveable "chicken kiev" or some such), labor availability has been an increasing problem for the poultry producers.
Hispanic population grows
The answer? For many poultry producers across the country as for many in the tree planting, sweet potato and other food processing industries across the state has been a growing influx of Hispanic workers.
Over the last decade, Mississippi's Hispanic population has increased from 0.6 percent to 1.4 percent or 39,569 in the 2000 Census. Scott County's Hispanic population increased from 0.02 percent in 1990 to 5.8 percent or 1,660 in 2000.
Chambers said the city is zoned for single-family or multi-family dwellings, but that local landlords and out-of-state relocation services "are victimizing these workers and indirectly victimizing the taxpayers of Forest."
Sleeping in shifts on floor
Some of these landlords will make $2,000 a month off these properties, some of which are clearly substandard. In some cases, the workers are sleeping in the same bed in shifts on mattresses on the floor. Some have no lights or water.
Mary Townsend with the Catholic Center in Morton confirmed Chambers' allegations as one of Scott County's two primary social service groups serving Hispanic workers and their families.
Black and white Mississippians wouldn't put up with this treatment for a minute. It's time for U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton to focus his resources on protecting the rights of Hispanic laborers in Mississippi. Justice should know no race.
Sid Salter is Perspective Editor/Columnist for The Clarion-Ledger and a Mississippi political columnist. Contact him at (601) 961-7084, P.O. Box 40, Jackson, MS 39206, or ssalter@jackson.gannett.com.

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