The majority of the Somali community will be leaving Emporia as a result of Tyson Foods’ decision to end its slaughter operation in the city.
Fardusa Council, a prominent leader of the Somali community, essentially confirmed what City Manager Matt Zimmerman told the city commission at its study session Wednesday morning. Zimmerman told the commission the Somalis would be leaving; Council said the majority would be, but didn't know exactly how many.
Council said the Somali workers at Tyson, most of whom work in slaughter, will all be eligible for transfers to other Tyson facilities.
“So that’s the determination, that most of them will be making the transfers to whatever offers them a job,” she said.
Tyson announced in a release Wednesday that it was concluding its second shift slaughter operations at the end of the day, and that second shift processing would end Friday. The company hasn't yet announced when first shift slaughter work will end. Tyson had originally said all affected operations would end within a few weeks after last Friday’s announcement.
Council, who came to Emporia from Norfolk, Neb., said she doesn’t yet know when the Somalis will leave, where the majority of them will be going, or even where she is going to end up. Many came from Minnesota, Council said, as well as Ohio and Washington state.
She said those wishing to leave Emporia who don’t get jobs at other Tyson facilities would return to where they lived before they came here.
“That’s what they told me: ‘We don’t have a job, there’s no job here, what are we staying here for?’” Council said. “See, they came here solely for the job. And if the jobs are cut, then they have no reason, they said, to stay. They would rather be with their families back in the states they came from.”
In the first public announcement of the Somali departure, Zimmerman told the city commission Wednesday morning about hearing the news via an e-mail exchange with Mohamed Abdurahman, the recently appointed Somali refugee coordinator for Kansas Social and Rehabilitation Services.
“As I understand it from him, there was a lot of concern in the community about how are... the Somali community going to have some economic security?” Zimmerman said. "Because this has happened to them twice now.”
Abdurahman couldn’t be reached on Wednesday.
About 400 Somalis are employed at the Emporia facility for Tyson, which announced that the closing of the slaughter operation would result in about 1,500 jobs lost.
An estimated 750 Somalis live in Emporia. Many often frequent the Ayan Cafe on 12th Street. Dahir Issa, a Kenyan who works at the cafe, said Wednesday it would be closing sometime around Feb. 15.
“If there’s no Tyson, our business is going down,” he said. “Virtually all the customers we get, (we) get that from Tyson.”
Issa came to Emporia with a diverse group of refugees from Columbus, Ohio, where he still has family. He said he would return there.
“I know I can go to a big city and do what I want to do,” he said.
Zimmerman said that, even as Emporia loses jobs as a result of the Tyson layoffs, the city is trying not to lose population, and as such was disappointed to learn the Somalis would be leaving.
“But at the same time, we know there’s going to be an impact, and this is simply part of that,” he said. “And I hope that they, by and large, felt welcomed.
“I was gratified that I’ve heard from several different locations that it was an economic choice, not a cultural choice.”