Many Cultures, One Workforce
Monday, November 13, 2017
On an average day, the workers at JBS Pork in Ottumwa, Iowa process 20,500 hogs. Their hard work feeds 80 million people each week in 26 different countries.
The JBS facility in Ottumwa employs 2,400 people and its workforce is becoming as global as its distribution. JBS has established one of the most diverse workforces around, with representation from 16 countries.
The company is the largest employer in the town of about 25,000 and it continues to grow. “We could use 150 more people,” says Troy Mulgrew, plant manager. “We’re in hiring mode right now.”
Attracting enough workers for the meatpacking jobs in rural Iowa can be a challenge. That’s why in addition to local area recruitment efforts, the company hires workers from much farther away.
JBS brings $100 million in payroll each year to the community. It offers attractive wages of $16-19.75 per hour for production work. Maintenance positions pay up to $27 an hour. Workers also have access to a good health insurance plan, paid holidays and the chance for advancement.
About half of the workforce at the Ottumwa facility is Caucasian. About 25 percent of workers are from Latin American countries, and the remaining 25 percent are East African, Eastern European, Asian and African American.
Some workers are refugees and others are just looking for steady employment and the opportunity to build a new life. “Many of our employees are buying homes in the community. They find life here desirable and want to stay here long term,” says Mulgrew.
Maintaining such a diverse workforce can be a challenge. “It’s like running a small city down here, there are so many different moving parts,” says Mulgrew. In addition to training staff on best practices of working within a multicultural environment, JBS has a number of interpreters on each shift to help ensure good communication.
Some of the company’s major customers are Costco, Kroeger and Oscar Mayer. JBS has a direct economic impact on Southeast Iowa. Eighty-five percent of the livestock processed at the Ottumwa plant are raised within a 100-mile radius. About $1 billion each year goes to area pork producers.
JBS is also community-minded company. At a recent Football Feed at Ottumwa High School, it contributed meat to feed 600 people and a pavilion was dedicated to the company for its community support.
This company is donating 1000 pounds of bacon for the popular BaconTown event on November 10 at the Bridgeview Center. More than 3000 people are expected to attend this event where local chefs concoct creative dishes out of the popular pork product.
JBS staff sits on the city’s diversity committee as well, in an effort to help their foreign-born workers adapt to the community. Mulgrew says the community has been largely supportive and engaged in the process of welcoming newcomers, which is good for everyone.
“The community is very receptive to helping our workforce and wants them to be permanent workers — and so do we — a transient workforce is not good for anyone,” says Mulgrew.