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Seaboard Foods Union in Guymon Files Complaint As Company Requests Temporary Workers

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The union representing Seaboard Foods in Guymon, Oklahoma has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor as the company seeks temporary workers to fill gaps in its workforce.

While the company claims it is facing a labor shortage, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union argues workers are leaving because the wages are low compared to other food processing companies in the area.

Recently, Seaboard Foods filed a request for H-2B workers — a request to bring foreign nationals to the U.S. to fill temporary nonagricultural jobs. In an email on June 1, the Seaboard human resources director requested UCFW to provide a letter supporting its wages. The union refused.

“We cannot in good conscience support your claim that Seaboard pays a prevailing rate or that its labor shortage is not due to the wages it pays when we do not believe that to be true and the record shows otherwise,” Martin Rosas, president of the local UCFW said in a reply email on June 2.

Rosas said Seaboard Foods is paying $4-$9 an hour below what other packing plants pay.

Meat processing workers make an average of $15.53 an hour, but in Oklahoma, it’s $2 less — $13.02, according to analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by the Midwest Center For Investigative Reporting. 

In the complaint to the Department of Labor, the union argues Seaboard does not meet the requirements to get the workers. The union has filed an OSHA complaint alleging Seaboard does not take proper safety precautions to protect its employees from COVID-19. The letter also says the union has concerns that the company is not complying with standards to prevent injuries.

Seaboard has roughly 2,500 employees in Guymon, according to spokesman David Eaheart. He blames COVID-19 for the labor shortage along with turnover and absenteeism. Eahart said Seaboard typically hires 25-40 employees a week to maintain staff.

One of the ways Seaboard tries to fill that gap is through the H-2B program.

“The H-2B program has been a part of our workforce management strategy for five years, allowing us to scale up to the necessary number of staff in a very short period of time that we are not otherwise able to fill with workers who are located where we do business,” Eaheart wrote in an email to OPMX.

Rosas believes the employees are not being treated fairly.

“Seaboard was exploiting these [H-2B] workers, forcing these workers to show up to work even if they were sick,” Rosas said.

Rosas said the Department of Labor has not responded to their complaint.

This report was produced by the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange, a collaboration of public media organizations. Help support collaborative journalism by donating at the link at the top of this webpage.

Seth Bodine joined KOSU in June 2020, focusing on agriculture and rural issues.
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