10/08/10 — Butterball taps new immigrant worker source

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Butterball taps new immigrant worker source

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on October 8, 2010 1:46 PM

Absenteeism and job turnover has become an increasing problem for the state's largest turkey producer, so Butterball has begun recruiting from a different pool of workers.

Refugees from the Caribbean, Africa and Asia -- here in the United States legally and on their way to becoming American citizens with the government's blessing -- might soon make up a larger part of the company's workforce.

Butterball officials held a town-hall-style meeting Wednesday at the Holiday Inn Express to help educate Wayne County community leaders about the people that might soon become more visible in the Butterball production area.

Marlene Myers, state refugee coordinator with the Department of Health and Human Services, said the United States invites about 75,000 international refugees a year to move to the country.

North Carolina is 10th in the nation for resettling refugees, she said. About 2,700 refugees from Myanmar, Bhutan, Vietnam, Iraq and Cuba relocated to North Carolina last year with the intent of becoming permanent residents.

The refugees come to the country for a variety of reasons, often seeking to escape persecution or war in their homeland, Ms. Myers said.

Megan Peterson, a training specialist at Butterball, presented information about refugee customs and culture to give supervisors and others in the community knowledge of what to expect when interacting with a variety of workers who were born and grew up in other countries.

Cultural norms in one country can be vastly different from the customs in another country, she said. For example, although meeting the eyes of the person you're speaking with is a sign of attention and respect in America, for someone born and raised in the Republic of Congo in Africa, it's considered intimidating and rude, Ms. Peterson said.

Men from countries where Islam is the primary religion may shake hands with other male friends, but traditionally men and women do not touch or associate with one another in public. People from the primarily Buddhist country of Bhutan, in Asia, tend not to touch one another at all, and specifically do not touch each other on the head. On the other hand, refugees from Cuba might consider it rude not to shake a man's hand or give a woman a kiss on the cheek when meeting in public, Ms. Peterson said.

The meeting sought to explain some of the cultural differences so that other Butterball employees and people in the community might know what to expect if they interact with the refugee populations, officials said.