Madison plant provides opportunity for new workers


By JERRY GUENTHER - Norfolk Daily News (NE)

September 24, 2013


MADISON — One of Nebraska’s most diverse communities has recently become even more so.


The Madison County seat, which is home to the Tyson Foods pork plant that employs more than 1,000 people, has, for many years, provided a place to work and live for refugees seeking to make better lives for themselves.


Recently, the Madison plant has begun employing about 25 workers from Burma, which is located in southeast Asia.


Gary Mickelson, director of public relations at Tyson Foods in  Springdale, Ark., said the company hires as many people locally as possible.


“However, sometimes we must broaden our hiring efforts to areas outside of the local community in order to supplement the local applicant flow,” Mickelson said. “This typically involves recruiting from more highly populated areas where there’s a higher unemployment rate and greater availability of applicants.”


What started out as just a handful of new hires rather quickly turned into about 25 Burmese workers making the move to Northeast Nebraska for employment.


Mickelson said the Burmese workers hired at Madison were already living in the United States and looking for jobs or better employment.


Some were recruited by the company, while others heard about job opportunities at Tyson through word-of-mouth and applied for employment on their own, he said.


“In the case of Madison, we recruited a small number of Burmese from Des Moines to work for us.  Other Burmese who’ve made the move to Madison heard about the job opportunities through word-of-mouth and applied on their own. Some came from Omaha, while others have come from working for other meat processors in other communities in Nebraska, Iowa or Colorado,” he said.


Tyson learned of the Burmese refugees in Des Moines through a social service agency.


At Madison, the new plant workers mostly fill general production jobs.


Mickelson said the new Burmese employees have adjusted well to Northeast Nebraska.


“As with all of our workers, we strive to help them succeed on the job by providing the information, training and other support they need, including information about housing, schools, transportation and community programs,” he said.


Tyson has spoken to community leaders in Norfolk and Madison, including the Norfolk city administrator, Norfolk Police Division, Norfolk Area Chamber of Commerce, the Community Health Care Clinic in Madison, Faith Regional Health Service, Nebraska Health and Human Services and the superintendents of the Norfolk and Madison public schools.


Mickelson said that because Tyson has historically had a diverse workforce, it is experienced working with employees whose primary language is something other than English. Since most of the Burmese are not fluent in English, the company provides translators to help foster good communication. 


He said it is possible that other Burmese will be among those applying for openings in the future...