Milwaukee Cargill Workers Face Uncertain Future After Abrupt Plant Closing

Aug 11, 2014

Laid-off Cargill workers get information on job hunting and filing for unemployment Monday at Serb Hall.
Credit Erin Toner

About 600 Milwaukee people are unexpectedly back in the job market after losing theirs when Cargill abruptly closed its slaughterhouse in the Menomonee Valley.

(A warning – you may find a few descriptions in this story unpleasant)

On Monday, at Serb Hall, the Hire Center held a meeting for those newly-displaced workers. It provides information on how to find a job or learn new skills.

Charles Anderson worked at Cargill for a year-and-a-half. He was a “head dropper.”

“It was cutting off the head, off the carcasses and putting them on the hook," Anderson says. "It’s kind of gruesome, the way I describe it, but that was my job position.”

He says the job paid $14 an hour, and the company provided full benefits.

“The one thing I can say about Cargill, they do have good benefits and everything,” he says. “Health insurance, 401k, vacation, good pay. I had it all.”

Anderson says he was angry when the company informed employees the factory was closing.

“Because I really wanted to have an opportunity with that company. But everything changes, so as long as God is by my side, things will fall into place,” he says.

Anderson says at Monday’s information session, the Hire Center showed him know how to file for unemployment and pursue a new career. He says he’d like to learn a trade and have more job security in the future.

Keith Boyle worked at Cargill for eight years. His last position was in the shipping department, where he was paid $13 an hour. Boyle says workers were shocked when they heard the slaughterhouse would close.

“Nobody expected it, but it’s one of those things that happens in life, you just got to move on, when it does happen, you just got to move on and do what you have to do to survive,” Boyle says.

Amanda Vega worked at Cargill for about a month as a meat trimmer. She says she needs to find a new job that will allow her to support her ailing mother.

“She’s the only person I have so I have to take care of her, take her to her doctors and buy her medicine,” Vega says.

Vega says employees on the shop floor cried when the company announced it was shutting down the Milwaukee facility.

“People who had been there for years were shocked because they didn’t give us notice, they just said the day before, your last day is tomorrow,” she says.

Vega says she was happy to get information Monday from the Hire Center about help available for putting together a resume or filing for unemployment.

Like the other laid-off Cargill workers Monday, Sal Jimenez held a folder containing information on unemployment benefits. The majority of those attending the event got green folders for Spanish speakers. English speakers got blue ones.

“I worked at Cargill for almost 33 years. I got laid off. I still feel a lot of pain now,” Jimenez says. “It’s pretty bad because all my life, I worked there. I started when I was only 22 years old. So now I’m 59, so it’s impossible to get another job.”

Jimenez says he’s likely sell his house and move home to Mexico.

"Yeah, retire, enjoy Mexico. Especially Cancun,” he says with a laugh.