Farmer John’s laid-off workers offered free training, new prospects

An estimated 2,000 workers who are being displaced by the closure of a Farmer John meatpacking plant in Vernon are receiving help, thanks to a Los Angeles County-led partnership aimed at training them for new jobs.

Parent company Smithfield Foods, which acquired Farmer John in 2017, announced it will be closing the facility this month, citing “the escalating cost of doing business in California.” The plant has been in operation for more than 90 years.

Smithfield, which first announced the closure in June 2022, said the products will now be packaged and trucked in from its facilities in the Midwest. Many employees have already been laid off.

Displaced employees from the Farmer John meatpacking plant in Vernon attended a job fair Wednesday, Feb. 15 aimed at helping them the assistance and training they need to transition to good paying union jobs. (Photo by Diandra Jay)

Funded largely by a $6.1 million grant from the state Employment Development Department, L.A. County representatives — along with UFCW Local 770, the Hospitality Training Academy and others — have hosted a series of job fairs aimed at helping Farmer John workers get the assistance and training they need to transition to good paying union jobs. 

Many of the jobs are in hospitality, while others are in the construction industry.

More than finding work

County Supervisor Janice Hahn, who spearheaded the effort, said the partnership involves more than helping Farmer John’s employees find work.

“Before workers even begin to talk to employers or get information about job training, we make sure they have everything they need to support their families right now,” she said.

That includes connecting them with CalFresh benefits and healthcare coverage through Covered California, as well as helping them file for unemployment and connecting them with housing assistance if needed.

“Many of these workers have spent years, if not decades, working at this meatpacking plant doing grueling work,” Hahn said. “And it is our hope that out of this bad situation, we can open doors for people to start new careers and improve their quality of life.”

Liz Odendahl, Hahn’s communications director, said some of the employees have received free training through the Hospitality Training Academy and are already working as cooks at USC. The academy operates training kitchens in L.A. and Santa Monica.

“They will be making more money than they did before,” she said. “At Farmer John’s, they were making $17.25 an hour, but the new job will pay $19.25 an hour. And the hospitality industry always needs employees at hotels, restaurants and airports. “

100% placement

Adine Forman, the Hospitality Training Academy’s executive director, said the academy offers everything from one-day training to receiving a food-handling certificate, to an eight-week culinary apprentice program. The programs are aimed primarily at low-income residents in L.A.

Some displaced Farm John workers are already enrolled in the program, she said, while others are interviewing to enroll.

“We have some 100% placement out of our programs,” Forman said. “USC has already hired eight people.”

The academy also places job seekers in some of the region’s upscale hotels, including the Beverly Wilshire, Millennium Biltmore and Conrad Los Angeles, as well as in airport concession jobs.

“Many of these Farmer John workers were doing incredibly hard jobs working on the killing floor,” Forman said. “We offer jobs where they won’t be working in 20 degrees in a freezer. They’re good union jobs with good benefits and outstanding employers.”

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