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Follow the misinformation trail about Tyson Foods’ hiring

“As Perry [Iowa] residents struggle to cope with mass layoffs, Tyson Foods has its eyes on a different class of workers. The company is now offering new jobs to asylum seekers in other states …. They’re firing Americans and offering perks to illegals. This was the Democrat plan all along.”

— Fox News prime-time host Jesse Watters, March 14

Watters recently put Tyson Foods, the nation’s largest meatpacker, in the spotlight. With his platform on Fox News, he generated a firestorm on the right by claiming that Tyson was firing workers in Perry, Iowa, “one of the great American suburbs,” and hiring undocumented immigrants elsewhere in the country.

His report, with a news chyron declaring “Perry, Iowa is an all-American town,” was accompanied by clips from a 1978 video, found on YouTube, that pitched Perry as a good place for business investment. Interviews with three people — all speaking in unaccented English — were shown. “It’s a relatively small town with strong values and a very close-knit community,” one person said.

Then Watters gilded the lily by bringing on Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) and saying: “I didn’t think it was legal, Senator, to ax American workers and hire en masse illegal aliens.”

Vance replied: “Well, it shouldn’t be, Jesse, and we’re certainly going to look into whether we can change that, assuming Tyson is operating legally, which we don’t even know if they are.”

The segment was picked up by conservative publications like the New York Post and the Daily Mail. America First Legal, a litigious group run by former Donald Trump aide Stephen Miller, warned “it is illegal under federal law to discriminate against American citizens based on their citizenship in favor of noncitizens of any kind when it comes to employment.” An investment fund that claims it invests only in companies with conservative values earned headlines by announcing it had divested its Tyson stock.

This Sturm und Drang is severely misplaced, based on some basic misunderstandings — or deliberate misinformation. It’s a textbook example of how events taken out of context can be weaponized for political purposes.

On March 11, the Wall Street Journal reported that Tyson, which is based in Arkansas, had decided to permanently close its 1,200-person pork processing plant in Perry. The company said it was seeking greater efficiency; the plant, 61 years old, was smaller than other pork plants in the state and, according to the Des Moines Register, did not allow for a second shift of work. Demand for U.S. pork from China caused a spike in pork production some years ago, but exports to the country are now down, leading to oversupply. Still, the Perry plant’s closing will not reduce the amount of pork produced by Tyson.

That same March day, Bloomberg News published an article titled: “Tyson Is Hiring New York Immigrants for Jobs No One Else Wants.”

The article reported that Tyson was partnering with a nonprofit organization, Tent, to hire refugees (in the country legally) who recently arrived in the New York area. Garrett Dolan, Tyson associate director of human resources, was quoted as saying that 42,000 immigrants were part of the company’s 120,000-strong workforce. “We would like to employ another 42,000 if we could find them,” Dolan added. He said that not many people wanted to take unpleasant jobs like washing meat and inspecting for bones, whereas immigrant workers were “very, very loyal.” The report noted that Tyson recently had hired 17 asylum seekers from Venezuela, Mexico and Colombia for jobs at a plant in Tennessee.

The article also quoted Dolan as saying that Tyson plans to hire about 52,000 people in 2024 in a wage class that paid $16.50 an hour, plus benefits.

A Tyson spokesperson said Dolan misspoke when he used the 52,000 figure. “The company has between 5 to 8 percent of roles open, all of which are available to anyone who is qualified and legally authorized to work in the United States,” the spokesperson said in a statement. That works out to about 6,000 to 9,600 people.

Bloomberg’s article was picked up by Scripps News on March 13, which headlined its article: “Tyson Foods wants to hire 52,000 asylum seekers for factory jobs.” That article was retracted on March 16 because of “serious factual inaccuracies,” a statement said. The reporter for the story did not respond to a request for comment.

The Bloomberg story has not been retracted or updated. A spokesperson said the story speaks for itself.

On March 14, Watters took these discrete events and conjured a narrative suggesting that U.S. citizens were being fired in Iowa in exchange for illegal immigrants being hired in New York. But that’s false.

Tyson Foods said the number of its immigrant workers fluctuated, but 42,000 out of 120,000 was essentially accurate now. The company has many brands, not all of which involve meat processing. The company declined to say what percentage of the Perry workers were immigrants, but as a matter of logic, it should be substantial.

Tyson, on its website, says more than 11 languages may be spoken at a single plant. Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit, says 60 percent of Tyson front-line workers in processing plants are “immigrants and refugees representing more than 60 countries.”

Perry, which is about 40 miles northwest of Des Moines, is no longer the White enclave that the 1970s video clips suggested. The Census Bureau reports that Perry’s Latino population has increased from 47 people in 1990 to 2,498 in 2022. That’s more than 31 percent of the 8,008 people who live in the town. Nearly 19 percent of Perry’s residents were born outside the United States, the bureau says.

Watters didn’t mention that Tyson’s announcement about the Perry plant added that workers were encouraged to apply for open jobs elsewhere in the company. (Tyson has four other processing plants in Iowa.) He briefly flashed Tyson’s statement that immigrants who work for the company are required to be “legally authorized to work in the United States.”

But he didn’t quote that part on air. Instead, he said only: “We reached out to Tyson for comment, and they said they have a very diverse set of employees and they’re proud of it.”

It’s not really news that Tyson hires many immigrant workers. The company has long made that clear and made it a point of pride. It’s also not news that meat processors are seeking greater efficiency in an era of oversupply. What Watters did was take two unrelated events and combine them in a way to generate outrage on the right.

Asked for comment, Fox News issued this statement: “On the same day that Tyson announced plans to close their Perry, Iowa plant, Bloomberg reported a story about how the company was working to recruit asylum seekers to work in their plants in New York and Tennessee. Jesse Watters Primetime reached out to Tyson for comment ahead of covering the dueling stories, which was aired in full on screen and referenced in the segment.”

On March 15, an X account, @EndWokeness, with 2.4 million followers, announced a boycott of Tyson Foods, displaying the company’s many brands. “Tyson is closing its facility in Perry, Iowa and laying off its 1,200 workers,” the post said. “Instead, they plan to hire thousands of new illegals in states like New York.”

The next day, Fox Business Network picked up the story, highlighting the 52,000 figure. “Tyson laying off 1,200 workers after closing its pork factory in Perry, Iowa, only later to announce 52,000 jobs for migrants,” said co-host Sean P. Duffy, a former GOP member of Congress from Wisconsin. “Misplaced Hiring Priorities,” declared the segment’s headline.

That same day, the American Conservative Values ETF, a fund that invests in companies it says do not promote liberal values, announced it had dumped its holdings of Tyson Foods. That prompted a new round of headlines, though fund manager Bill Flaig acknowledged to The Fact Checker that the holdings were minuscule — roughly $36,000 (649 shares) out of $79 million in assets.

“Our position was small and in isolation was of no economic impact on TSN, but politically conservative investors are becoming aware that they can fight the woke liberal takeover of America with their investments,” Flaig said.

Yet, since Watters’s segment aired, Tyson stock has increased in value — suggesting that the controversy may not have spread far beyond a red corner of America.

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This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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