From Credo Action:
Imagine spending your entire day in a room kept near freezing temperatures, standing for hours in pools of chicken blood, and unable to move from your spot to wash your hands, stretch, or rest. Imagine wearing diapers to work, and restricting how much you eat and drink because you often aren’t allowed to take a break to go to the bathroom when you need to.1 Your managers mock you and your co-workers, and you know your job could be on the line if you complain.
This is the reality for thousands of workers in America’s poultry and egg processing factories. The pay is dismal, the injury rate is high, and the conditions are so unbearable that worker turnover can be as high as 100 percent each year.2 It’s unacceptable, and it’s time for the Department of Labor (DOL) to do something about it.
Last fall, Oxfam America released a report detailing the the horrific experiences of poultry workers, the “most vulnerable and exploited workers in the United States.”3 The report called out giant poultry corporations Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s, Perdue, and Sanderson Farms as the biggest and worst offenders of violating worker decency. Those four companies control 60 percent of the poultry market, and play a huge role in setting industry standards related to workforce practices.4
After the report was released, Big Poultry outright denied the widespread issues in the industry. The National Chicken Council, a trade group representing the poultry industry, and the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association joined together to criticize what they called the “efforts to paint the whole industry with a broad brush based on a handful of anonymous claims.”5
This isn’t about a handful of anonymous claims. Oxfam’s report is based on hundreds of interviews with line-workers, and is one of multiple reports detailing the basic decency denied to poultry workers. In 2013, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that over 30 percent of the workers they surveyed were not allowed to use the bathroom when they needed to at work,6 and just last month a report came out of Minnesota stating that 86 percent of workers surveyed in their study received less than two bathroom breaks a week.7
Poultry workers in general are injured five times more than other workers, and suffer psychological impacts as well. One study showed that poultry workers in North Carolina experienced depression and depressive symptoms 80 percent more than non-poultry workers in the same area. The physical and psychological risk of this work is compounded by the fact that line-work, like most dangerous and low-paying jobs, attracts some of the most vulnerable populations in America – immigrants, refugees, and prisoners. Many of these workers have no safety net, no fall-back plan, and are completely vulnerable to retaliation if they speak out about unacceptable working conditions.
The DOL already officially classifies poultry as a “hazardous industry.” It’s clear that there’s a problem, and workers can’t wait any more.
Thank you for standing up for workers.
1. “Lives on the Line,” Oxfam America, Oct. 26, 2015.
2. “Poultry Workers,” National Center for Farmworker Health, 2014.
3. “Lives on the Line,” Oxfam America, Oct. 26, 2015.
4. Samantha Bomkamp, “Oxfam urges better pay, working conditions in poultry industry,” Chicago Tribune, Oct. 27, 2015.
5. “Health and Safety of Employees a Top Priority for Poultry Processors,” National Chicken Council, May 10 2016.
6. “UNSAFE AT THESE SPEEDS: Alabama’s Poultry Industry and its Disposable Workers,” Southern Poverty Law Center, 2013.
7. “Striving for a Just and Safer Workplace Central Minnesota’s Poultry Industry and its Disposable Workers,” Greater Minnesota Worker Center, Apr. 1, 2016.