“You need somebody to help you get into the system,” Mr. Teklay said, and that’s what Labor Solutions does. For refugees who can’t speak English well or drive a car, he said, a job in a meat-processing plant is about the best they can do.
Fluent in Arabic, Amharic, Tigrinya and English, Mr. Teklay acts as interpreter, administrator, real estate agent, loan office, complaint bureau and overall fixer.
For a year, he helped Waleed Kanuo, Elfadil Daoud and Ali Hamid, refugees from Sudan, settle into an apartment in Woodstock and navigate the system, until they transferred to working directly for the poultry-plant operator. Gathered in the living room of the sparsely furnished apartment they share, all three said they were saving money and grateful to Labor Solutions for finding them a job.
For others, the experience is more mixed.
Mr. Kabba, for instance, said he had not known that he would have to pay an additional $25 every week for the daily mile ride from a co-worker to and from the plant. Nor did he understand that he would be working for Labor Solutions and not the processing plant directly, which he said makes it more difficult to switch departments, and means he is not yet eligible for the health benefits or 401(k) plan.
At the same time, plant conditions are regimented and unforgiving, with 30 minutes for lunch and two 10-minute bathroom breaks that workers said don’t include time to change out and into cumbersome protective garb. And small infractions can lead to firing.
But as a friend of Mr. Kabba’s says, that’s the way it is in America: They tell you all the sweet stuff, and not the salty. “It’s a job,” Mr. Kabba said of the $11.70-an-hour work, which pays a $1-an-hour bonus if he’s on time every day of the week. “You can’t pick and choose.” And he loves Woodstock’s quiet.
Teddy Marchant, 32, a former housemate of Mr. Kabba’s, did not. Within a couple of days, he realized that the small town, without so much as a movie theater, wasn’t for him. He needed the cash, he said, but “if I had my way, I don’t think I’d be here.” He soon left.