Meatpacker Closes Plant at National City Stockyards
NATIONAL CITY, Ill. (AP) _ The last of the giant packing plants that once surrounded the sprawling National City Stockyards complex is closing, and its owners blame high costs and not enough hogs.
Swift Independent Packing Co. said it will idle 412 employees Friday when its National City plant closes, the third Swift plant to be shut down in six months.
Company spokesman Bill Dillman blamed the decision on financial losses at the plant near East St. Louis.
″It’s been a drain for a little more than a year,″ Dillman said. ″It was a high-cost plant, and there has been a hog shortage. All the meatpackers have been chasing a few hogs. You’ve got to run at capacity to make money.″
Swift warned six months ago, when it closed two pork processing plants at Glenwood and Sioux City in Iowa, that the National City operation might close unless employees accepted wage concessions.
The base wage at the plant was raised to $8.75 per hour in June, and Dillman said hourly wages at other pork plants range from $4.50 to $8.
But union workers refused to accept the 75-cent hourly pay cut sought by the company, said John Holmes, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 78.
″We couldn’t afford to take any more concessions,″ Holmes said. ″People decided that if they were going to have to work for $5 or $6 an hour, they weren’t going to do it in a packing plant.″
The closing was the fourth by a large area processor since the 1950s, said L.F. Wittich, vice chairman of the stockyards.
He said an Armour Meat Packing Co. plant ceased operation in 1958; the Hunter Packing Co. closed its East St. Louis plant in 1981, idling 750 workers; and 90 lost their jobs when Royal Packing Co. closed a National City plant the same year.
Wittich, who worked for Swift in National City for 10 years before joining the stockyards 15 years ago, said he recalled a time when thousands of meatpackers reported to work in the area each day.
″When I came here 25 years ago, you could see 2,000 men going to work at the Armour plant, 2,000 going to work at Swift and another 2,000 going to Hunter,″ he said.
But Wittich said employment declined as the philosophy of the meatpacking business changed.
″They used to do all their operations - slaughtering and processing and smoking - in the same plant,″ he said. ″Then, they decided to slaughter where most of the stock is and do processing where the customers are.″
Wittich said the change led to a wider distribution of plants.
Swift has operated packing plants in the National City area since the turn of the century and employed 2,300 workers in 1949. The existing plant opened in 1972.
Production from National City will be shifted to some of Swift’s 10 other packing plants in Iowa, South Dakota, Texas, Georgia, Minnesota and Missouri, making them more efficient, Dillman said.