Workers shocked, worried after layoffs

Farm Forum

Northern Beef Packers employees began streaming into the Department of Labor office to file for unemployment benefits and look for jobs shortly after they were laid off Wednesday morning.

Leydis Estrada and her mother, Rafaela Novarro, were two of 260 employees laid off. They filled out forms at the office at 11:30 a.m. Estrada had worked in the fabrication department on the rip line, she said. She helped cut meat into smaller portions before it was boxed. She was surprised about the layoff.

“They kept telling us that we would start to kill cattle on Monday,” she said. “They lied to us.”

She said she was upset that employees had not been paid for their work the past two to three weeks. She was also concerned about the paid vacation time she had accumulated. She was afraid she would not get that either.

Estrada and her mother, who also works in the fabrication department, moved to Aberdeen from Miami about one year ago to work at the plant. She said that, for the most part, she enjoyed her work.

Novarro, who speaks Spanish and a small amount of English, said that they plan to stay in Aberdeen, but it depends if they can find jobs.

Obono Alual, who is originally from Sudan, Africa, was laid off from the killing floor. His job was to operate a machine that separated the animal carcass down the center.

Alual said he did not mind his job at the plant.

“I am sad to not have a job,” he said. “I liked the job out there. But I did not like that they have not paid us for three weeks. They kept saying they were going to pay us, but they didn’t.”

Alual moved to Aberdeen from Sioux Falls in October 2011. He has an apartment in Aberdeen and hopes to stay here if he can find another job, he said. He also hasn’t ruled out going back to work at Northern Beef.

“Hopefully, they get back on their feet and keep running,” he said.

Rogelio Aguilar-Murillo was laid off from his job as a meat cutter. He said he had a skilled job cutting brisket. He moved from Huron to Aberdeen to work at the plant, because it paid better than the Dakota Provisions turkey processing plant where he worked in Huron. He made $11.75 at the turkey plant and was paid $14.50 at the beef plant, he said.

He said he had already applied for two jobs — one at a concrete company and the other at a roofing company.

“I just have to find a job,” he said. “I don’t want to sit home watching TV. I have a lot of bills to pay because I haven’t had money coming in.”

He has not received his pay for three weeks from the beef plant, which has made it hard to keep up with his own expenses, he said.

“I have 15 years experience in beef and turkey plants,” he said. “If I don’t find a job in a week, I will leave for a job in another plant. Maybe I will go to Grand Island, Neb., or Willmar, Minn.”

There is a Swift beef packing plant in Grand Island and a Jennie-O turkey plant in Willmar.

Mark Wojtaszek, a knife specialist who was laid off by Northern Beef, said he was not at the meeting where they announced the layoff, but learned about it from another employee. At the time he was informed, it was only the hourly employees that had been laid off, he said.

Jeffery LaCroix, who worked on the killing floor, had been at the plant seven months. He said he had thought the layoff was coming and had already begun to look for another job. After hearing about the layoff, he finalized working for another firm.

Instead of driving to the unemployment office Wednesday, he was driving to his new job, he said.

“I pray for those people who lost their jobs,” he said. “It is not easy.”