05/01/06 — Plants, schools handle fallout from protest

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Plants, schools handle fallout from protest

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on May 1, 2006 1:49 PM

Local businesses and county schools are dealing with the effects today of a national boycott organized to show how much immigrants contribute to the American economy.

The impact is already being felt on construction sites, in local classrooms and on the production lines of several local factories, officials said.

Hispanics nationwide have called into work and many are expected to walk out of the classroom and stage a boycott of goods and services, as they attempt to raise awareness about immigration issues on "A Day Without Immigrants."

Carolina Turkey vice president of human services Gary Lenaghan said the company has been planning for the demonstration for a few weeks now, and found a way to get some work done today -- despite having to run understaffed.

Lenaghan said he was not sure how many employees were out this morning, but that the number was "significant."

"Actually what we've done is asked volunteers (from the plant) to work those lines," Lenaghan said. "And basically we'll just shut down those other areas."

But as for losing productivity and potentially, money, because of the walkouts, Lenaghan said the company will make up for the loss later this week.

"We'll pick it up on the weekend," he said.

Other local businesses with a large Hispanic workforce said they haven't had any problems yet, but realize that could change as the day continues.

Goldsboro Milling Co. human resources manager Mark Lynch said the processing plant has had a normal morning, despite rumors of a staffing shortage.

"I haven't heard of anything from the field yet." he said.

Mt. Olive Pickle Co., which has roughly 100 Hispanic employees, roughly 20 percent of its workforce, is also not seeing any evidence of effects from the boycott, said Lynn Williams, community relations director.

She said only a few people didn't show up to work today. She's not sure whether the immigration demonstration is the reason.

"I think we have three employees who aren't here who are supposed to be here," she said. "But we don't know where they are."

Economic Development Commission President Joanna Thompson said county officials are preparing for a "crimp" in daily operations today should all immigrant workers in Wayne walk off the job.

She added that Wayne industries with a large Hispanic presence will feel an impact from the boycott, although she could not predict an exact dollar amount.

"Many industries have a fair percentage of Hispanic-Latino workers," she said. "The full immigrant walkout would have a economic impact for those industries, but I couldn't put a number on (the economic effect)."

The impact of today's demonstration can also be felt in the classroom, as some Wayne County schools reported the absence of many Hispanic students this morning.

Some of the schools with a larger number of Hispanic students saw an increase of those students being absent today, school officials said. Ken Derksen, public relations officer for Wayne County Public Schools, confirmed that the majority of students reported as absent at the schools were Hispanics.

Spring Creek Elementary School is a school with a 39 percent Hispanic population or 334 students. This morning, 176 of the 190 absences reported were Hispanic students, Derksen said.

By contrast, Grantham School has only 100 Hispanic students. Derksen said in today's attendance count, the school showed 109 absentees, 34 of those Hispanic students.

Brogden Primary School also showed an increase in absenteeism, he said, the majority being Hispanics. Final numbers for there and other schools were not in, however, because attendance had not yet been completed.

At Brogden Middle, Principal Dr. Earl Moore said quite a few students were out today.

"Maybe half of my population of Hispanic kids" are out, he said, which equated to about 20 students not at school.

It would be difficult to determine how many of the absences related to the immigration issue, Derksen said.

"Obviously we can't say they are excused or unexcused absences until they return tomorrow," he said.

Derksen said the school system would handle the absentees according to policies already in place, depending on whether they were determined to be excused or unexcused.

Some local Hispanics disagree with the actions being taken within the county and across the nation today.

Gaspar Gonzalez, chairman of the Wayne County Democratic Party, said businesses have been more than fair with their employees. He added that he doubts a day of rallies will solve the problems facing immigrants.

"I know Carolina Turkey has released its people so they could go to the protest and the march," he said. "And Case Farms has done the same thing. They even have buses for them if they want to go somewhere different. But some people will resent that this is happening because it disrupts, in a way, the economy."

Gonzalez added he believes today's events will set back the Hispanic community and that immigrants should become citizens the legal way.

"I feel sorry for them," he said. "They are not on the proper path, and I'm speaking as an American and not as a Hispanic. But maybe this is the only way they feel they can get to it. If they want to be American, they've got to pay a fine, learn English and do everything in a legal way."

Other events relating to recent immigration legislation trouble him, too, he said -- including a proposed Spanish version of the National Anthem.

"I don't like it because if I go to Mexico and sing the Mexican anthem in English, they wouldn't like it," he said.

Outside Wayne and Duplin counties, other parts of the nation braced themselves for a work shortage.

In an employment survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor in March, researchers found that Hispanics make up between 5 and 6 percent of the nation's workforce.

-- Staff writers Andrew Bell and Phyllis Moore contributed to this report.