Meatcutters and Meat Packers


Employment Prospects


Approximately 135,500 butchers and meatcutters are employed in the United States. Meatcutters work in a wide variety of settings, from small grocery stores or meat markets to huge plants or even multinational corporations. They also may work in restaurants or hotels. Some hold positions in government, inspecting meatpacking industries and retail operations. Slaughterhouses, meatpacking plants, and other places employing meatcutters are located throughout the United States.

There are about  75,500  slaughterers and meatpackers working in the United States. Meatpacking workers are found in a wide variety of settings, from wholesalers and distributors to huge plants or even multinational corporations. Slaughterhouses, meatpacking plants, and other places employing meat packing workers are located throughout the United States.

In recent years, the beef industry has been moving out of larger metropolitan areas such as Chicago; many meatcutting plants now are located near the commercial feedlots of Kansas, Texas, and Nebraska. The center of the pork industry continues to be in the Midwest, especially in the states of Iowa and Illinois; hog production is also very prevalent in North Carolina. Poultry processing jobs are most likely to be found in the southern and southeastern states, especially Georgia, Arkansas, and Alabama. Many turkey production facilities are located in Minnesota, North Carolina, and Arkansas.

Starting Out

The usual path of entry to the meatcutting field is a job with a retail or wholesale food company that has an apprenticeship program. You may also contact a local union office to find out about these programs. After two to three years of on-the-job training (sometimes coupled with classroom work), apprentices are given a meatcutting test in the presence of their employer and, in those establishments covered by a union, a union member. Those who fail the exam may take it again at a later time. In some areas, apprentices who can pass the test may not have to complete the training program. Employees at nonunion meatpacking plants do not take part in an apprenticeship program but are given on-the-job training. Information about work opportunities can be obtained from local employers, union offices, or local offices of the state employment service, as well as from newspaper ads.

The best way to find work in meatpacking is to apply directly to local plants. State employment agencies may also know of openings. Some jobs may be listed in newspaper ads. Local unions also have information about available positions.

Advancement Prospects

Experienced meatcutters may be promoted to supervisory positions, such as meat department manager in a supermarket or manager of the entire supermarket. A few become buyers for wholesalers and supermarket chains. Meatcutters working in restaurants and hotels may also become managers. Some become grocery store managers or open their own meat markets. Government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, that oversee meatcutting and processing, also hire individuals with meatcutter backgrounds, though additional education and specialized training may be required.

Entry-level meatpacking workers generally start as laborers on the killing floor, helpers in sausage kitchens, hide workers, or meat cutting apprentices. As they become more skilled, these workers advance to more difficult jobs. Skilled, dependable workers have the best chance of advancement, but they usually must wait until openings occur. Some workers may become supervisors, and those with seniority and a great deal of experience may eventually take jobs in the management of the plant.

Tips for Entry

Read Meat + Poultry (https://www.meatpoultry.com/publications/1) to learn more about the field.

Join the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union to increase your chances of landing a job and receiving fair pay for your work.

Get a part-time or summer job in a meatpacking plant or slaughterhouse to learn more about this type of work.

Be willing to relocate. It may open more job opportunities.