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story.lead_photo.caption A plant employee stands near a refrigeration unit as business continues at this Koch Foods Inc., plant in Morton, Miss., Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019, following Wednesday's raid by U.S. immigration officials. In an email Thursday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Bryan Cox said more than 300 of the 680 people arrested Wednesday have been released from custody. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

FOREST, Miss. -- Days after immigration agents arrested 680 Hispanic workers in raids at seven Mississippi chicken-processing plants, job seekers flocked to an employment fair Monday in hopes of filling some of those now-empty positions.

Koch Foods, based near Chicago, held the job fair to recruit new workers at one of its Morton plants, after Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on Wednesday arrested 243 people suspected of working without legal authorization.

By 10 a.m., a crowd of dozens was on hand, and steady stream of people came and went.

While the raids at seven plants were unprecedented, chicken-processing facilities are normally plagued by heavy turnover and constantly seek employees. Koch spokesman Jim Gilliland said Monday that job fairs are a "frequent occurrence."

"They are part of normal efforts to employ," Gilliland wrote in an email. "In this environment of relative full employment, most businesses are looking for qualified applicants; Koch is no different."

Like Nicholson, many who applied Monday were chicken-plant veterans. They understand the arduous and sometimes dangerous work of slaughtering, butchering and packaging chicken.

"It's definitely hard," said Cedric Griffith of Magee, who said he has been working at McDonald's after getting fired from another chicken processor for missing too many days. "You're going to lose of lot of weight."

That draining work, at relatively low wages, leads many people to quit. So chicken plants are always hiring. Angela Stuesse, an anthropology professor at the University of North Carolina who spent years among labor organizers in Morton and nearby towns, said the desire for cheap, docile labor led poultry firms to begin recruiting Spanish-speakers in the late 1990s. At first, Stuesse said they were people who could legally work. But they were eventually replaced by Mexicans, Guatemalans and others who often lacked legal working papers. Later, came a wave from Argentina, Uruguay and Peru.

Koch has hundreds of jobs posted for its Morton facilities on a Mississippi government job board. Only a few dozen other jobs are listed within 10 miles of Morton, many of them at fast-food restaurants or dollar stores.

Business on 08/13/2019

Print Headline: Chicken processor holds job fair after plant raids

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