VERNON, Calif. (CNS) — Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn is promising to assist displaced workers at the Farmer John slaughterhouse in Vernon after the plant closes next year, while animal rights activists are vowing to continue holding regular vigils for the thousand of pigs trucked into the facility to be killed for food.
The plant’s Virginia-based owner announced Friday that the facility would close in early 2023, citing the rising costs of doing business in California. Parent company Smithfield Foods is also exploring “strategic options to exit its farms in Arizona and California.”
“Smithfield harvests only company-owned hogs in Vernon,” according to the firm. “Smithfield will service customers in California with its Farmer John brand and other brands and products from existing facilities in the Midwest.”
Company officials said they are providing “transition assistance” to employees at the plant, including “relocation options” to other Smithfield facilities and farms.
“We are grateful to our team members in the Western region for their dedication and invaluable contributions to our mission. We are committed to providing financial and other transition assistance to employees impacted by this difficult decision,” Smithfield Chief Operating Officer Brady Stewart said in a statement.
Hahn also said she would also assist displaced workers at the plant.
“The planned closure of the Farmer John plant in Vernon will have an impact on the economy and workers in Southeast LA County,” Hahn said in a statement Friday. “I will do everything I can to get county resources to Farmer John employees to help them with the job training and assistance they need to get new good-paying jobs.”
John Grant, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770, the union representing union meat-packers at the plant, said he hopes another operator takes over the operation.
“Despite a strong, mutually beneficial relationship with Farmer John employees and their union, Smithfield has decided to exit operations in California,” Grant said in a statement. “A fair agreement that compensates their workers until next year has been reached, and we hope that another operator will take advantage of the highly trained and stable workforce that makes the Farmer John plant a productive and profitable part of Vernon’s packing infrastructure.”
A union spokeswoman told City News Service that there are roughly 1,500 UFCW workers at the plant, with other workers represented by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the International Union of Operating Engineers.
The Vernon plant and its associated hog-production farm have been the target of weekly vigils organized by the Animal Alliance Network, protesting the treatment of baby pigs raised in cramped conditions until they are loaded on trucks bound for the slaughterhouse.
“They are packed into trucks with over a hundred of them piled together, often without room to move freely,” according to the organization’s website. “These pigs are usually raised in warehouses without windows and the first time they see the light is when they are loaded onto these trucks.”
At the vigils, volunteers show up in the early morning hours to offer water and human touch to the animals in the back of the trucks as they await entry into the slaughterhouse. The group said Saturday that they would continue to hold the vigils, with the next one scheduled for midnight Wednesday.
The activists also said they spoke with Jim Monroe, vice president of corporate affairs at Smithfield, and requested that Smithfield expand its plant- based meat line, Pure Farmland, or even shift to a plant-based business model, which they said “will save millions of pigs’ lives, be healthier for their consumers, safer for those living in close proximity to their slaughterhouses, and be sustainable for our environment overall.
“We believe that a transition to plant-based meats will be better for their business and their employees in the long run. Slaughterhouse work is at the top of the most dangerous and traumatic work a person can do,” the group said.
Monroe and other Smithfield officials did not immediately return a request for comment Saturday, but the Animal Alliance Network said Monroe “expressed his willingness to speak again regarding our requests and possibly share our requests with others at Smithfield.”
The activists say they’ve also offered to help coordinate the rescue of “a few” pigs who would be sent to sanctuaries, but the company has so far declined that request.
In 2019, Farmer John chose not to renew its contract to supply Dodger Dogs to Dodger Stadium and grocery stores after more than 50 years.
It is unclear what will happen to the meat-packing facility at 3049 E. Vernon Ave., which has long been a popular destination for tourists.