One thing these trying times have taught the entire nation is the vulnerability of our essential businesses to disruptions that can massively impact our society as a whole. One such disruption has been the COVID-19 pandemic and its crippling of the meatpacking industry. Practically every person living in the country is affected by the alarming increase of food prices and outright food shortages due to supply line disruption in meat processing plants that have had COVID-19 outbreaks.
The need to quarantine workers who test positive is the initial cause here. According to the Center for Disease Control, COVID-19 cases are present in 115 meat and poultry facilities across the country that altogether employ more than 130,000 people, with the percentage of workers testing positive ranging from 0.6% to 18.2%. The impact of recent hiring restrictions combined with workers falling sick has created a perfect storm in which half the workers in some processing lines have been unable or unwilling to work. Additionally, other manufacturing segments, including America’s automakers, are also facing worker shortages that are brought on by the pandemic.
However, this crisis presents a noble opportunity for some of the most reliable—though sadly often forgotten—sources of labor this country has: formerly incarcerated citizens. To the surprise of many, anecdotes are common about how well returning citizens do in the manufacturing industry. Nehemiah Manufacturing, a company in Cincinnati, Ohio that opened its doors in 2009, today has a workforce numbering 130, 90% of which are ex-felons. The company’s success (Nehemiah is growing with new brands and a larger manufacturing space) is in part due to its strategy of hiring this oft-neglected population. Nehemiah has a turnover rate of less than 20%, about one-third of the normal rate in the industry.
The Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) has found further evidence that returning citizens are reliable hires. According to its recent study, 82% of executives surveyed said the people they have hired with criminal records have been at least as successful as the average employee.
If employers need more incentive to hire those with records, the federal government offers a Work Opportunity Tax Credit and a Federal Bonding Program for hiring and retaining returning citizens.
The coronavirus has introduced uncertainty into the lives of Americans unaccustomed to food shortages and has made us all more aware of how precarious our way of life can be. But we can call upon a group of fellow citizens—who are often an afterthought—to join the greater community’s efforts to help our nation’s businesses emerge stronger from this global pandemic.