Why an Iconic California Meatpacking Plant Is Closing

A truck carrying pigs entering the plant.Credit…Mark Abramson for The New York Times

When I arrived before dawn at the pork processing plant, I could see lights from the downtown Los Angeles skyline flickering a few miles to the north. It was one of those heavy, gloomy mornings — one with a thick marine layer that so many of us Southern Californians know to expect in the summertime.

I’m not new to the region, but I am new to The New York Times. I joined the paper in June after spending eight years at The Los Angeles Times, where I worked as a national correspondent. Before that, I covered state politics and policy at The Denver Post, a newspaper I grew up reading as a Colorado native.

Now, as an economics correspondent for The Times, based in Los Angeles, I’ll be roving the West and writing about this diverse and dynamic part of the country and its economic challenges.

So when I read that Smithfield Foods would close an iconic meatpacking plant in Vernon — an industrial city not far from downtown Los Angeles — and that roughly 1,800 people would lose their jobs, I kept coming back to two questions: Why was it necessary, and what will happen to the workers?

Today I published an article that captures the debate over ​the closing​ and whom is to blame — ​the company or California?

Smithfield officials told me that escalating costs of doing business in California led to their decision. State leaders say that contention doesn’t match the reality, noting that California’s economic growth outpaced the nation’s and that the state remained the tech capital of the country.

The Smithfield plant, associated with the Farmer John brand, dates back to 1931 and is known for its huge mural depicting a pastoral rural landscape that transports you far from the concrete corridors of Vernon. For decades, Farmer John produced the widely famous Dodger Dog.

More than 80 percent of the employees at the plant are Latino — a mix of immigrants and first-generation native-born. Most are older than 50.

Outside, I visited with Teresa Robles, 57, who has worked here since 2018. She makes $17.85 an hour cutting tripe most days.

She knew the history of the plant, and when whispers started in early June that it would close, she quickly grew concerned. She wondered if anyone would offer her a reliable job at her age, and whether she would ever find work at a comparable wage.

“They’re kicking us out with no answers,” Robles told me, blinking back tears.

The factory is scheduled to close early next year. The workers’ union says it is trying to find new jobs for its members and a buyer for the plant. I’ll be watching what happens next.

Kurtis Lee is an economics correspondent for The Times, based in Los Angeles.

An early intervention preschool teacher with young students at the Carousel School in Sacramento.Credit…Monica Almeida/The New York Times

The rest of the news

  • Child care: Free universal preschool is finally arriving in California, but for child care centers already dealing with staffing shortages, the timing couldn’t be worse. Read more from Politico.

  • Pac-12: Commissioner George Kliavkoff spoke publicly for the first time since the departure of U.S.C. and U.C.L.A. from the Pac-12.

  • Monkeypox: California officials say they aren’t yet ready to declare an emergency over monkeypox, The Associated Press reports.


  • Problems in the Coachella Valley: The E.P.A. found that water at a mobile home park in the Coachella Valley contained almost 10 times the allowable limit of arsenic. But housing alternatives are hard to find.

  • School buses: A fleet of electric-powered school buses in El Cajon can send electricity back to California’s grid, The Los Angeles Times reports.


  • Oak fire: One of California’s largest wildfires this year has slowed, with firefighters saying that the fire west of Yosemite National Park is mostly contained, The Mercury News reports.


  • McKinney fire: A fast-growing wildfire in Siskiyou County has become the state’s largest this year so far and has prompted Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency.

  • Nursing home: A nursing home operated by the city of San Francisco will stop discharging patients after at least four patients died within days or weeks of being moved from Laguna Honda Hospital, The Associated Press reports.

Credit…Natasha Lee for The New York Times

What you get

She planned to spend her golden years in the Golden State. What could she afford?

Credit…Evan Sung for The New York Times

What we’re eating

No-bake blueberry cheesecake bars.

Credit…Eric Grigorian for The New York Times

Where we’re traveling

Today’s travel tip comes from Steve Mullen, who recommends a classic Los Angeles drive:

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

What we’re reading

Anthony Marra’s “Mercury Pictures Presents,” a homage to the movies and to his immigrant family.

Credit…Ringo Chiu/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

And before you go, some good news

A lucky Californian just won the lottery — literally.

A Mega Millions ticket worth $4.2 million was sold at a Vons in northeast Fresno, ABC 30 reports. It was the only ticket in California that matched all five numbers drawn on Friday. (It did not, however, match the mega ball worth $1.28 billion.)

Thanks for reading. We’ll be back tomorrow.

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Animal symbol of Cancer (4 letters).

Soumya Karlamangla, Briana Scalia and Jack Kramer contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].


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