In ongoing study, UO's Sandoval looks at exploitation of workers

Gerardo Francisco Sandoval

When Gerardo Sandoval turned his attention on conditions at a large meatpacking in Iowa, he had no idea he'd be reconnecting to his homeland.

In 2008, while he was an assistant professor at Iowa State University, U.S. immigration officials raided the plant in Postville, Iowa, and deported hundreds of undocumented Guatemalans.

When he began researching conditions at the plant, which closed after the raid, he discovered that many of the workers had come from two small towns near Guatemala's colonial city of Antigua where he had lived the first six years of his life. His mother, a college professor, left the country for the U.S. in 1984 amid Guatemala's 36-year civil war, in which more than 200,000 people were killed.

Sandoval's case study continued when he joined the faculty of the UO's Department of Planning, Public Policy, and Management in 2010. His award-winning research has documented what he calls shadow networks that tied the workers to the Postville plant and community, as well as to their hometowns back in Guatemala.

In his latest paper in the journal Ethnicities, Sandoval and UO colleague Edward Olivos, a professor in the Department of Education Studies, detailed the roots of the exploitive system. And Sandoval says such networks still exist but in different forms in the United States within industries in need of cheap laborers.

For a look at Sandoval's research, see the UO news release "Case of Guatemalans at Iowa plant reflects desperation amid globalization."