When Chickens Devoured Cows

The Collapse of National Bargaining in the Red Meat Industry and Union Rebuilding in the Meat and Poulty Industry

This paper examines the consequences of the collapse of the national bargaining structure in the American meat industry during the 1980s. It argues the driving force behind the collapse was the substitution of chicken for beef in the American diet. The relatively high price of beef was no longer sustainable when it came into competition with poultry products that were less costly, healthier, more convenient, and more malleable to further processing. The substitution of chicken for beef, put wages back into competition as consumers redefined market boundaries. Poultry processors were nonunion, paying low wages, and had developed a high productivity
growth production system, known as the broiler complex. They were located in the union hostile rural South and had grown their businesses using African American labor in the Southern Black Belt. ... <Read more>