Laid-off beef plant workers moving on
By Jeff Natalie-Lees
ABERDEEN -- Two hundred sixty Northern Beef Packers workers are readjusting their lives after the shock of being laid off from their jobs three weeks ago.
Some have found jobs, some are still looking for employment and some have left the area.
The group most likely to leave Aberdeen has been Hispanic workers who have had experience at other slaughter plants.
Joop Bollen, who owns several Aberdeen apartments, said he has had about five Hispanic families move out of his properties to go to other towns for jobs.
Bollen, a businessman who helped Northern Beef recruit foreign investors through the government's EB-5 program, has followed the beef plant's ups and downs closely.
"Most of the Spanish-speaking labor is gone," he said. "The majority have gone to other plants. Not all of the workers, but most of them."
Sacti Reyes, is one of the laid-off Spanish-speaking workers who continues to reside in Aberdeen. He spoke to the American News through his daughter, Talia, a student at Holgate Middle School.
Reyes said he is worried there is no money coming in for his family. Northern Beef Packers could not meet payroll before it went out of business. Employees had not been paid for three weeks when the plant closed. Reyes is looking for a job and hopes to stay in the area, he said.
Recruiters from other processing plants have been mining Aberdeen for workers. On Thursday, Turkey Valley Farms was recruiting employees for its turkey processing plant in Marshall, Minn. Chris Janisch of Work Connections in Marshall represented the plant at a recruiting meeting at the Ramada Inn. She said about 15 people spoke to her about job opportunities. Turkey Valley Farms may hire some of them after reviewing their qualifications, she said.
"It is very sad what happened in Aberdeen with the plant closing," she said.
Many other processing plants have been advertising job openings. In the Aug. 11 edition of the American News, there was a large display ad from American Foods Group, which operates the Cimpl's beef plant in Yankton, as well as plants in Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ohio and Oklahoma. There was also a want ad for a Minnesota packing house and one for a firm in eastern Montana looking for an experienced meat cutter.
Jeffery LaCroix, who worked on the Northern Beef slaughter line, found a construction job right after he was laid off. He is working on the Highway 12 road construction project as a laborer for Webster Scale.
LaCroix, who is from Aberdeen, said he started looking for the job before the beef plant closed because Northern Beef had stopped slaughtering cattle.
"I am happy now because I am getting paid," said LaCroix, who is putting in 13 hours a day.
Don Wagner had one of the higher paying non-management jobs at the plant. An experienced welder and fabricator, he made $19 an hour. After he was laid off, he decided to go home to Mina and work on his house.
"I am lucky," he said. "My wife works for 3M. She put me on her health insurance plan."
Wagner said he is collecting unemployment compensation. He has received two checks so far, he said.
"After withholding, I make $311 a week," he said. "I haven't made that amount per week since the 1980s."
He said he is not sure what he will do in the future, but he knows he will not go back to the beef plant, even if it reopens.
It is not known how many Northern Beef employees are collecting unemployment compensation. The South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation has no data available at this time, said Melodee Lane, information supervisor.
Bollen said he is confident the beef plant will reopen sometime in the future.
"The plant is a quality plant," he said. "It is clear that it will open again. The question is just under what ownership. When the beef plant opens, the labor will come back."
Joe Mosslander, is one of the few Northern Beef Packers workers who continues to work at the plant. He is one of six security guards watching over the facility the size of two football fields south of Aberdeen.
At one time, he managed the security crew which had 14 members. After the layoff of 108 employees in April, that number dropped to six.
"The six of us were approached by management just before the bankruptcy and asked if we would remain with the company with no guarantee of payment, but the likelihood that money would be available to watch over the plant," he said.
Mosslander stayed with Northern Beef even though he had not received a paycheck before the plant declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy. He and the other security guards now receive a salary from post-bankruptcy funds, he said.
"We are like the other employees in that we have not received paychecks from before the bankruptcy," he said. "Now, we receive a paycheck for protecting the assets."
His salary comes from a security company and not Northern Beef, he said.
Mosslander said that, in order to make ends meet, he worked for Day Labor and part time at Kessler's on the overnight stock crew. He has worked at Northern Beef for two years.
"Like most people, I liked working for Northern Beef," he said. "There were a lot of quality people, a lot of positive energy. The plant had a lot of great potential, and there is still potential for a beef plant in Aberdeen."