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Boom, Bust, ExodusThe Rust Belt, the Maquilas, and a Tale of Two Cities$
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Chad Broughton

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199765614

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199765614.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 29 November 2021

Getting Back to Work in the ’Burg

Getting Back to Work in the ’Burg

(p.219) 14 Getting Back to Work in the ’Burg
Boom, Bust, Exodus

Chad Broughton

Oxford University Press

Tracy Warner Began to worry after she got a rejection letter from Pizza Hut a few weeks after graduating from Western. She hadn’t heard on some manager-level jobs at the Carl Sandburg Mall, but she expected at least some positive responses from the entry-level ones. “We wish you luck in finding a job worthy of your skills,” read the Pizza Hut letter. “What’s that?” Warner said, exasperated. “Either my skills suck, or I have too many skills. Which is it? ’Cause I’m kind of curious! It’s flattering to be overqualified but it doesn’t pay the bills.” Warner hadn’t expected a dream job to suddenly appear, but she had hoped for more than a quiet phone and a growing pile of rejection letters. She just needed something, anything, to get by. Several months into 2007, the newly minted and distinguished WIU graduate was still unemployed and uninsured. Although sworn off factory life, a desperate Warner applied to Farmland Foods. When Maytag shuttered in 2004, Farmland, a massive, loud, hog disassembly operation, became the largest employer in this part of western Illinois. With about 1,200 to 1,400 cutters and slicers and a $60 million payroll, the slaughterhouse employed a couple hundred more than BNSF, the largest employer in Galesburg. Like Mike Smith, Warner was just looking for a wage, any wage, with a “1” in front of it, and Farmland, on Monmouth’s northern edge, was close. It was so close, in fact, that on some days Warner could smell the tangy mix of rendered hog, hydrogen sulfide, methane, and whatever else made up that vile smell in her house, a mile to the south. Farmland was a last resort for former Maytag workers. The jobs there, involving tearing apart pig carcasses with razor-sharp knives and powerful pneumatic tools were, frankly, tougher than appliance work. Perhaps worst was the “sticker,” which slit the throats of about 1,000 shrieking animals each hour for about $12 an hour. That was one pig every four seconds, at about a penny per kill.

Keywords:   American Dream, Farm King, Smithfield Foods, Town Tavern, downward mobility, full-replacement wage, gay rights

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