VAN BUREN, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) – Hundreds of Tyson Foods workers clocked in and out of work for the last time, as the Van Buren plant officially closed its doors May 12.
Despite efforts to make sure Tyson workers aren’t left jobless when the Van Buren plant ends its operations, a nonprofit advocating for poultry workers’ rights, Venceremos, said there’s not enough job opportunities available in the area.
The nonprofit’s executive director Magaly Lacolli said around 1,000 people worked at the plant. She said she helped organize the workers’ strike when Tyson announced it would be shutting down operations in Van Buren.
Now, she’s watching many of those workers struggle to find employment. Along with the area’s lack of jobs, she said many people are up against language barriers.
“The sentiment of workers is the uncertainty of their future, of their kids, not knowing what’s going to happen now with the economic crisis in the country, inflation, the prices going up for rent, it means a lot of concern from these people,” said Lacolli.
One of the workers facing that uncertainty is Maria Ruvalcaba. She lost her job after working at Tyson for more than 16 years.
Ruvalcaba described the work as demanding and sometimes unsafe. She said the $1,000 bonus Tyson offered workers to stay until the plant’s last day isn’t enough, and she’d like to see the company take more responsibility for workplace injuries.
Although through their recent workers’ strike, Ruvalcaba feels like they made a difference for the future of poultry workers.
“We’re not afraid now,” said Ruvalcaba. “I hope this is something that other companies can take a look at. Then later, maybe they may have the same thing.”
Ruvalcaba does feel optimistic that having the Tyson job on her resume will help her find another job, and she is exploring other careers in food service.
While on the job hunt, she said she’ll use the time off to spend more time with her daughter.
Tyson’s offering relocation incentives up to $15,000 if workers want to stay within the company, and said 47 people took the company up on the offer. For most of Ruvalcaba’s co-workers though, she said they don’t want to uproot their families to make the move.
“Many people immigrated to these towns because of these jobs,” said Lacolli. “They settled and they grew their families. They pretty much adopted the community for their own.”
Tyson said the company helped coordinate a job fair for workers not willing to relocate, where 250 people did find new jobs.