Georgia Poultry Federation President Mike Giles said the poultry industry has not been immune to the labor shortages that have plagued other state businesses.
“I would say that every poultry facility that I’m aware of in the state is understaffed,” Giles said.
He said hiring had always been somewhat of a challenge but is certainly “more pronounced over the past year through the pandemic and now.”
Giles has been hearing similar stories all over the state, as Gainesville is the leading region for poultry processing in the state.
“Over time, your position worsens because with turnover, you don’t have a new flow of applicants coming in that you need to replace workers and to fill those vacancies,” he said. “I guess the urgency of it has become more serious in the later stages of the pandemic because of the lack of new applicants coming in and applying for jobs.”
Giles did not have metrics on how many jobs the poultry industry needs filled or what the effects might be for shoppers in the supermarket.
“Anecdotally I know that it is affecting production, but I can’t quantify it in terms of how it might affect the average consumer,” Giles said.
A processing plant could have as many as 1,500 employees, while hatcheries and feed mills are much smaller, Giles said.
“In terms of actual numbers of employees that are needed, the processing plants (are) where the greatest need is,” he said.
Every company is finding ways to address hiring, Giles said.
“Some companies are offering incentives like attendance bonuses and things like that, so every company approaches it differently,” he said. “And then companies use firms to help them find employees as well. I think they’re trying every tactic that they can to find the workers they need to fill the jobs that are available.”
Perdue Farms said its Gainesville plant, which has about 90 workers, is one of its smallest plants.
Diana Souder, Perdue Farms’ director of corporate communications, said they have added a daily-pay program that allows employees to access half of their earned income each day prior to Friday payroll.
“Amid national labor challenges in our industry and beyond, we have made adjustments in some locations as needed, such as streamlining our product mix, to ensure our facilities can remain operational in a safe manner, and our salary and benefits packages remain competitive as we strive to maintain a workplace where our associates feel valued,” Diana Souder, Perdue Farms’ director of corporate communications, said in a statement.”
Representatives from Mar-Jac, Pilgrim’s and Fieldale Farm did not return requests for comment Thursday, May 20.