Poultry plants that employ thousands are planning to close or scale back operations because of a work stoppage being promoted by Hispanic residents and their supporters to protest Alabama's tough new law against illegal immigration.
Pilgrim's Pride Corp. and Alatrade Foods each planned to shutter one plant in north Alabama on Wednesday because of the protest, and Tyson Foods said it was limiting production at two plants because of a potential shortage of workers.
Margaret McDonald, a spokeswoman for the Colorado-based Pilgrim's Pride, said Hispanic workers at its plant in Boaz told managers they didn't want to work so they could "stand in solidarity" with their community.
"These are all legal workers, but they do want to bring attention to the law," she said Tuesday.
Facebook users have formed groups and events urging people to skip work on Wednesday and Thursday. They're also asking people to only shop at businesses that are part of the Hispanic community. Hundreds have said they're participating.
A Spanish-language radio station in metro Birmingham helped promote the campaign by telling fans on its Facebook page to stage a labor strike to show that Hispanics are an important part of Alabama's economy. One posting said immigrants should stay at home "so that we can make it known that we are indispensible in this state, the we hispanics are an important part of the economy.
"We must be united to be a force, now more than ever."
The Obama administration, Hispanic organizations, civil libertarians and individuals are in federal court attempting to block the law, with provisions including a requirement that public schools verify the citizenship status of new students and a ban on illegal residents doing business with the state to purchase things like car tags. Republican supporters contend illegal immigrants are stealing jobs from legal residents and describe the law as a jobs bill.
In heavily Hispanic Albertville, city officials said some Hispanic-owned businesses planned to close Wednesday. The city was considering a parade permit requested so people could demonstrate against the law.
Alatrade President John Pittard said his workforce of 1,500 at three plants in Albertville, Boaz and Phenix City is about 60 percent Hispanic. He plans to close one plant and slow operations at the other two because of the protests.
At Tyson Foods, spokesman Gary Mickelson said worker shortages could extend to contractors that perform jobs like sanitation. Operations will be reduced at plants in Albertville and Blountsville, he said.
"While we certainly understand the sentiment behind concerns over the new immigration law, we are not encouraging our workers to participate in a protest," he said. "We are simply adjusting our production schedule for a possible disruption in staffing so we can continue to meet the needs of our customers."
Hispanics make up about one-third of the company's total Alabama workforce of 1,700 people, Mickelson said.