Corporations in communities need to be better neighbors. – Erin Brockovich
So, Illinois 8th District Congressman, Raja Krishnamoorthi finally caught up with the fine folks at Smithfield Foods, St. Charles, Illinois’ largest and most infamous employer. His office invited both the EPA and Department of Agriculture to investigate the increasingly “foul odors” emanating from the plant.
And he initiated this action because the neighbors of that 410 Kirk Road factory have been raising a stink over the stink purportedly arising from their wastewater treatment facility which processes 90,000 gallons of water a day. In addition to the basic nasal onslaught, residents have reported gastrointestinal issues, nausea, vomiting, and respiratory problems.
I’m not casting aspersions on Raj or his capable staff, particularly after they took the issue seriously enough to file an EPA complaint. But if the Congressman thinks he can get Smithfield to care about, and much less resolve the problem, then I have a slightly used bridge over the Fox River I’m willing to part with dirt cheap.
The truth is, Smithfield couldn’t care less.
To be somewhat fair, we’re talking about the largest pork producer in the country, a $27 billion Fortune 500 company with over 50,000 U.S. employees, 500 of them toiling away in St. Charles. And any time a company gets that big it tends to become a bit unwieldy. It’s certainly nothing like working for the family business. But when your corporate mottos, “Good is what we do” and “Good food responsibly,” are the stuff of Mark Twain’s “damned lies,” that makes Smithfield fair game.
I’m also willing to stipulate that the employment outlook has become quite the minefield in the post-COVID era, but again, please don’t claim you’re a paragon of corporate virtue when that’s clearly not the case.
“Responsibly?” The meat that arrives from the 500-plus Smithfield-owned farms is so frequently tainted with metal that the St. Charles plant has to run it through a metal detector before it’s processed. If the detector goes off, some hapless employee is directed to sift through a 400-pound vat of raw pork to extract the offending material.
That’s if the incoming meat isn’t spilled all over the floor first, requiring it to be “recovered” by a series of staffers armed with shovels. Apparently there’s something to be said for that old adage about closing your eyes whenever sausage is being made.
Smithfield St. Charles employees, an entirely expendable commodity, are forced to work long six-day-a-week hours that include most holidays. When I say “forced” I mean management uses a “point” system ostensibly applied to terminate errant employees for racking up a variety of cumulative transgressions. But nobody gets fired because those capriciously assigned demerits are used as a threat to keep workers in line.
So, how do Smithfield employees contend with a merciless management, copious amounts of overtime, and a frenetic pace? Why, drugs, of course!
My sources tell me that pot smoking around the garbage compactors and cardboard bailers is a regular thing. That’s when people aren’t standing in those abundantly dangerous machines in an effort to clear them.
Meanwhile, the forklift operators turn to cocaine to keep from falling behind. Even the supervisors can be seen hiding between cars in the parking lot to vape during safety drills and I’m told it’s probably not the popular mango ice flavor, either.
As another source said, “If Smithfield St. Charles ever performed a random drug test, they’d lose half of their employees. Everyone is high as ****.” Which goes a long ways towards explaining all of the accidents.
So, when you consider the scenario my sources painted, what makes any Kirk Road neighbor believe Smithfield gives a flying you- know-what about how those odious odors affect them? Smithfield is the kind of corporate behemoth that isn’t going to care unless they have no other choice but to care. Just look at how they treat their “disposable” employees.
As far as reaching out to the company, fuhgeddaboudit! They’ve created a labyrinthine auto attendant phone system where one can only leave messages for a “department,” none of which return calls. Reaching out to their Naperville corporate office produced the same sad result.
Just like the great “Earnestine” said on behalf of Ma Bell, “We’re Smithfield, we don’t have to care.” And the company was bought out for $4.7 billion by a Hong Kong consortium in 2013, making the corporate conscience problem that much worse.
To summarize, at the expense of their employees, who do drugs to cope with a terrible work environment, Smithfield’s sole purpose is to make as much money as they possibly can. And that revenue process certainly doesn’t include any “responsibility” or “good.”
So, while we should all applaud Congressman Krishnamoorthi’s efforts on behalf of his constituents, if Raj thinks someone as inconsequential as he is to Smithfield can make this corporate giant behave in any responsible manner, in the words of the great Judas Priest, “He’s got another thing coming.”
Smithfield doesn’t care because they don’t have to care. My advice to those Kirk Road neighbors is to seriously consider moving.