Gibson County Mayor Tom “Welcoming” Witherspoon and Humboldt Mayor Marvin Sikes claim that only positive impacts will result from the arrival of the Tyson Foods chicken plant, first rejected in Tonganoxie, Kansas, but now being relocated to Humboldt, Tennessee.
The plan to put the plant in Tonganoxie was defeated by citizen-led opposition because of concerns of Tyson’s history of environmental violations, impact on infrastructure and potential to attract refugee workers.
Opposition to the Kansas plant also focused on the secrecy surrounding the plan for Tonganoxie and withholding of information from public scrutiny.
Twilight Greenaway, reporting at Moyers & Company, the website operated by far left journalist Bill Moyers, described the citizen-led opposition in Tonganoxie as “staggering” and fueled in part by the secrecy in which the deal was arranged between Tyson executives and local officials until information was finally made public.
As Greenaway reported:
The Tyson plant was also a long-kept secret with the code name Project Sunset. Local lawmakers were asked to sign nondisclosure agreements when considering welcoming it to town, and the company is said to have worked through intermediaries when negotiating with the landowner over the 300-acre lot it would occupy.
But once the deal was done and the plan was made public, word traveled fast, and residents of the town started a group called Citizens Against Project Sunset (CAPS) and threw up a “No Tyson in Tongie” Facebook group that swelled to over 5,000 members. By last Friday, 2,500 people had gathered in a city park to oppose the development.
Then, on Monday, the Leavenworth County commissioners had rescinded its offer to pledge $500 million in revenue bonds for the facility. The next day, Tyson sent a letter to the county announcing that it had put the plans for the plant on hold.
To learn more about Tyson’s move to Humboldt and possible changes it might bring based on the experience of other towns where Tyson operates, The Tennessee Star submitted written questions to both Humboldt Mayor Marvin Sikes and Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson. Both were asked to respond in writing.
Over the course of almost a week, neither Mayor Sikes nor Mr. Mickelson have responded.
Mayor Sikes was asked:
- Were you aware that before Tyson Foods proposed the plant for Humboldt, it had proposed a plant in Tonganoxie, Kansas which was rejected based on residents organizing against it?
- Did Tyson Foods make the first inquiry about locating in Humboldt or was that made by you, a representative from the TN Dept. of ECD, or the mayor of Gibson County?
- What guarantees if any, did Tyson provide about hiring from the locally available workforce?
- Has any Tyson representative been asked about its practice of attracting and hiring refugee workers? If the question was raised, what were you told? What do you think would be the reaction locally if refugees relocate for jobs at the Humboldt plant?
- Are you aware that several years ago, the Tyson’s HR manager served on the board of a Nashville-based refugee resettlement agency?
Tyson spokesman Gary Mickelson was asked:
- Does Tyson Foods have a policy that requires proof of negative TB testing results for workers handling food products? If not, are you aware of any guideline, policy, rule, etc that requires TB testing for workers handling food products in production facilities?
- I have read that Tyson employs translators in some of its plants to assist with communication needs of non-English speaking workers. Approximately how many translators and for what languages does Tyson employ across its plants in Tennessee?
- Approximately how many refugee workers are employed at each plant in Tennessee?
Tyson Foods currently operates in four facilities located in Tennesseee: Shelbyville, Newbern, Goodlettsville, and Union City.
In 2009, the Shelbyville Times-Gazette reported about federal refugee resettlement contractors and church organizers, bringing refugees and Diversity Lottery immigrants to apply for jobs at the Shelbyville Tyson plant.
Federal refugee contractor World Relief’s director was quoted as saying that, “refugees are brought to Shelbyville for the jobs as openings occur and Tyson hires them ‘because they are hard workers.'” World Relief’s Employment manager at the time said they “had a long standing relationship with Tyson and she calls every Friday to see if there are job openings.”
Even though some in the Bedford County community felt that out-of-work residents should have preference for the jobs at Tyson, the company’s spokesman Gary Mickelson confirmed that equal employment opportunity laws disallow discriminating in favor of local residents.
The reporting in 2007, however, revealed that Tyson is able to disclose the number of refugee workers employed at their plants, a question Mickelson was asked recently, but declined to answer. In 2007, Mickelson confirmed that “just over one-quarter” (over 275), of the team members at the Tyson plant were Somalis.
At the same time, Mickelson explained that Tyson relied on employee self-reporting about TB testing or TB medical history and that depending on the information provided an employee might be referred to a local medical provider or health department.
What’s not clear is Tyson’s policy or procedure with regard to follow-up with employees referred out based on TB history to ensure that workers are TB-free, a question Mickelson could have clarified for The Star.
A 2015 report in the Journal of Community Health details an investigation at a rural Texas meat packing plant of 402 workers including 42 individuals from high TB-incidence countries of Sudan, Somalia, Mexico, Burma, and Haiti. TB testing was positive for 20 people, borderline for 4, and negative for 23. Repeat testing for the borderline group were negative.
Chest X-rays were abnormal in two contacts who were started on treatment. Sputum was collected in three individuals; one was culture positive for pan-sensitive Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Twelve contacts were treated for latent TB. Our investigation established an infection rate of 42.5 % in this work site contact cohort, which is similar to the 39 % prevalence reported by the Center for Disease Control.
The report investigators acknowledge that “[t]he highest prevalence of tuberculosis (TB) occurs in foreign born immigrants in the United States.” It was noted that their investigation of TB infection at work sites where many immigrants are employed, was “complicated by language barriers, varying and uncertain levels of exposure, and a high rate of drop outs” from the group of 23 that had initial negative TB testing. Of this group, only 4 people had returned for repeat testing.