What will happen to 1,276 laid-off Tyson workers in Perry?

The Tyson pork processing plant in Perry, Iowa. Photos by Pat Rynard/Starting Line

By Amie Rivers

March 15, 2024

What will happen to the 1,276 Iowans who will lose their jobs when the Tyson pork processing plant in Perry closes in June?

Roger Kail, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1155, represents workers at that plant, and that is something he is working to figure out.

Things had been going well in Perry, he told Starting Line. They had just signed their latest contract to supply product to a Japanese importing company, a successful partnership for several years. (Japan is the No. 2 export market for pork, behind Mexico, and one of the only growing markets.)

“We got that contract, but they still shut us down,” Kail said. “They’re going to give that contract to somebody else, which is terrible.”

Kail is worried about longtime workers, especially those close to retirement.

“They feel like they got kind of screwed,” he said. “You buy a house and you’re in that town, you settle down, and now they probably have to sell their house. I’d hate to be a guy who is 59, 60, for real.”

This will be the largest Iowa plant closure in a decade and have massive ripple effects for Perry and the surrounding area.

The union and Tyson are negotiating this week on what the closure will look like, and what—if any—severance and re-employment assistance will be provided to workers.

“We feel the company’s kind of screwed them and the town,” Kail said. “I mean, how much compensation does the town or the state give Tyson for that plant?”

Iowa Workforce Development announced it would send its mobile workforce center to Perry to help workers with services and finding jobs. Kail said UFCW is also giving workers information on other plants, including seven in Minnesota.

“They all pay pretty good; they’re pretty good jobs,” he said.

But what about if workers are looking to pivot to something new?

The construction industry desperately needs workers and are willing to train them, thanks to huge federal investments from the Biden administration, said Samantha Groark, executive director of the Central Iowa Building and Construction Trades Council.

“We are eager to work with the Perry community and UFCW union currently representing employees to help as many workers as possible transition into great careers in the building trades if they are interested and qualified,” she said.

Iowa Senate Democrats are proposing extending unemployment benefits for workers to 39 weeks, or what workers used to get for a plant closure before Republicans reduced it.

“The Tyson closure is a terrible loss … [which] will be even worse due to the cuts in unemployment aid and support for displaced workers forced onto our state by Gov. Kim Reynolds and the Republican legislature in recent years,” said Sen. Bill Dotzler of Waterloo. “Reductions in unemployment benefits and added red tape will add financial injury to the Perry workers facing this plant closure.”

  • Amie Rivers

    Amie Rivers is Starting Line's community editor, labor reporter and newsletter snarker-in-chief. Previously, she was an award-winning journalist at the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier; now, she very much enjoys making TikToks and memes. Send all story tips and pet photos to [email protected] and sign up for our newsletter here.



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