Opinion: Stop the Immigration Bill, Georgia Business Can’t Afford to Lose More Latino Workers

Fieldale Farms Corporation is a locally owned chicken grower and processor in northeast Georgia. We have plants in Gainesville, Murrayville and Cornelia. We have about 4,500 employees and contract about 450 local farmers to grow our chickens. We process 3.2 million chickens per week.

We currently have about 1,500 Hispanic employees. We use E-Verify, and all of our human resource people have undergone special training to identify documents. We routinely audit our Forms I-9, and we are confident that our Hispanic employees are here legally.

They pay taxes. We withhold federal and Georgia income tax from their weekly checks. They pay sales tax, and their landlords use their rent to pay property taxes. Fifteen percent of every dollar they make goes into the Social Security Trust Fund, though it’s extremely unlikely they will ever draw benefits, since most will go back to their home countries long before they’re 65. They have health insurance, as do all of our employees from the date they are hired. They are dependable, hardworking, law abiding, family-oriented folks, and we appreciate them very much. We are proud to have them as part of our team.

Let’s look at economic realities. In 2004, before federal, state and local governments started introducing immigration bills, each worse than the next, which made it clear that Hispanics were not welcome, 67 percent of our employees were Hispanic. Our turnover rate was 25 percent. Our workers’ comp cost was $50,000 a month. Our healthcare cost, for which we are self-insured, was $8 million for the entire year.

Fast forward to 2010. Many Hispanic people are gone. We are now 33 percent Hispanic. Our turnover has increased to 75 percent. Our worker’s comp cost has increased to $150,000 a month. Our health care cost for 2010 was $20 million. These are harsh numbers, but they reflect the economic reality of our change in demographics.

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Individual state initiatives on immigration are the wrong way to go. We need comprehensive immigration reform in the United States. There are important production jobs that Americans just don’t want to do, and if they do take those jobs, they don’t do them very well and don’t do them for very long, as evidenced by the above statistics. We need an expanded guest worker program, and we need to find a legal status for those folks who have put roots down here for many years.

You can’t have 50 different sets of immigration laws. We must have a federal program dealing with immigration, and we need it now.

Tom Hensley is president of the family-owned poultry company Fieldale Farms Corp. in northeast Georgia.

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