Some judges, senators and others have made xenophobic comments about the workers in our meatpacking plants. Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack said, “These were due to the meatpacking. … That’s where Brown County got the flare. It wasn’t just the regular folks in Brown County.”

It implies that the workers are “others” – that their “home and social” conditions (as Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar put it) are why these plants became hot spots.

My dad was a furrier before becoming a teacher at age 50. His union, the International Fur and Leather Workers, was absorbed by the Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workers in 1955, and those professions are ingrained in my memory.

In “The Butcher Workmen,” I looked up who was a “meat-packer.” Author David Brody wrote: “The Immigration Commission found that in 1909, Eastern Europeans made up 43 percent of the labor force in the packing industry.” Irish, Polish, German, and Scandinavians made up the meatpacking industry in the first half of the 20th century. Today, the workers are of Hispanic, Asian and Sudanese descent. In our country of immigrants, the workers today have our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ jobs.

Unfortunately, the meatpacking unions were subject to union busting in the 1980s. The major meatpacking companies closed union plants and reopened in rural areas with non-union workers, harsher working conditions and scant protections.

All workers deserve safe working conditions and fair wages. They are us, we are them. They are essential and deserve thanks.

Jessica Simpson

Cape Elizabeth

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