Routh packers not alone

MARGARETTA TWP. J.H. Routh Packing Co. employees work under a contract similar, if not better, to th
Janet
May 24, 2010

MARGARETTA TWP.

J.H. Routh Packing Co. employees work under a contract similar, if not better, to those at other meat packing plants.

Routh workers earn an average of $13 per hour, according to one employee.

That's about $1 more than the average hourly earning for a meat packer in 2005, which was $11.91, according to the newest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This could come into play as Routh Packing Co. and union officials continue to work toward a contract for employees.

Last week, they said a strike is possible if the company won't budge on a proposed contract that would freeze worker pay for four years and require workers to pay for insurance, among other things.

But paying for insurance is not unusual within the meat packing industry. "It's actually quite typical," said American Meat Institute spokeswoman Janet Riley.

The Bureau of Labor also reported that, on average, for workers who made less than $15 an hour, employers paid a $228.42 monthly health care premium while the employee paid $72.23.

The contract offer included a four-year wage freeze, unpaid holiday pay on certain holidays, no productivity bonuses and would require workers to pay for health insurance, according to a copy of the proposed contract.

The meat industry

The meat industry nationwide employs nearly 270,000 workers. About 150,000 people work in meat packing plants while 120,000 work in meat processing plants. Employees in both meat packing and meat processing plants work on average a 40-hour work week.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the United States is the world's second-largest pork producer. It is ranked second as an importing and exporting country.

"We compete in the global meat marketplace," Riley said.

The American Meat Institute lists Smithfield Foods, Tyson Foods and Swift & Co. as the top three pork packers in the industry for 2006.

Stagnito.com has Routh Packing ranked 86 out of 100 of the top meat processing plants in the country in 2002. The company's net sales that year totaled $110 million, according to the Web site.

The Research-Education-Advocacy-People, or REAP, a nonprofit organization founded by a small group of United Food and Commercial Worker members and union officers reports that in the decades of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s up to 1984, meat packing was one of the highest paying industries in manufacturing. But since 1984, meat packing has become one of the lowest paying industries in manufacturing. No reason for the decline was listed.

Routh history

In 1982, the owners of Routh Packing locked out their employees after the contract between the two expired.

With no notice, workers arrived at the plant for work and were greeted with a fence that blocked them from entering the parking lot.

For nearly four months, Routh employees went without pay. When Routh reopened, workers came back making $2 less than before the lockout. Pay went from about $11 an hour down to about $9 an hour. Nearly 200 workers were employed at the plant in 1982.

Turnover

Sean McHugh, vice president of communications for Swift & Co., which has pork processing plants in Iowa, Kentucky and Minnesota, said employee turnover at Swift & Co. has greatly improved within the past seven years.

In 2000 and 2001, the company's turnover rate was about 90 percent a year. The company's annualized turnover rate today is about 38 percent, excluding the Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid in December that arrested and detained about 600 workers.

"From an efficiency prospective, larger plants tend to be more efficient," he said.

McHugh said turnover can become expensive between recruiting, hiring and training costs.

"A new hire is not as productive on the line as a seasoned hire," said McHugh, adding that it can take four to six weeks to train a new hire.

Swift & Co. is ranked third for both beef and pork packers.

Although the turnover rate for Routh Packing could not be verified, workers have said the company's turnover rate is about 90 percent. Management has repeatedly declined to comment.

The UFCW estimates that about 60 percent of meat packing and processing employees across the nation are represented by the union.

Industry info

•  Average pay for meat packer: $11.91; Routh pay is said to be $13 per hour.

•   Stagnito.com has Routh Packing ranked 86 out of 100 of the top meat processing plants in the country in 2002. The company's net sales that year totaled $110 million, according to the Web site.

•   Routh Packing is a family-owned business that produces a variety of pork products under the Daisyfield brand name and employs about 200 people.