Workers at a Des Moines meatpacking plant are hoping they’re among the few who will still have jobs after a new owner takes over. They got little or no advance notice last week of the plant’s sale, and have been told only half the former workforce will be employed. Minority advocate Sondra Sanchez of Des Moines says immigrant workers are essential to the economy of the whole state. According to the latest Census Bureau numbers from 2000, there are 25,000 to 27,000 immigrants living just in central Iowa, around Des Moines. Of those, 30 to 45-percent may be undocumented, lacking the documents required to live and work freely in the United States. Sanchez says back in the 1980s, when big packing plants like IBP were changing hands, owners recruited heavily among workers who wanted to come from Mexico.She says they recruited heavily among workers to the south who lived in Mexico and Central America. It took about a decade, she says, to bring first the workers and then the friends and relatives who followed them, to reunite families or hoping for work. But their desperation often allows unscrupulous employers to get away with illegal treatment of such workers.Lacking proper documentation, they may not complain if employers don’t pay them minimum wage or overtime, or give them things like health insurance that others workers can count on. They don’t get unemployment, and certainly can’t organize into labor unions to try and get better working conditions or pay. Sanchez works with the American Friends Service Committee trying to help immigrant workers in Iowa.
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