Three Horrifying Examples of the Poultry Industry Exploiting Workers’ Rights

July 1, 2013 Kristance Harlow

The Poultry Industry employs a large number of undocumented workers in their slaughter houses and they are aware that these employees are using aliases to work under and use that information to their advantage. At a Mississippi Peco Foods plant the supervisor received letters from the Social Security Administration because the Social Security Numbers of some 200 employees did not match, and the employer used the letters as a manipulative tool. He tried to get them to admit they had illegally purchased Social Security Numbers by offering to sell them new numbers. Here are three shocking ways the poultry industry has exploited employees and denied them basic rights:

Denying Bathroom Breaks:

While OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the United States has laws in place that make it illegal to deny bathroom breaks to employees. As unpleasant as ‘holding it’ can be, being forced to hold it when you really have to go can cause hemorrhoids (as a side note, when you gotta go, let yourself there are still an outrageous number of examples where toilet use was denied and caused serious health concerns.
go). It seems like such a simple notion, toilets are a right and not a privilege. Yet,

At a Koch Foods poultry plant, a worker named Antonia Lopez Paz worked deboning chicken and needed to use the bathroom, but she was not allowed to do so. This caused acute abdominal pain and her supervisor even handed her a hat and said to use that as her toilet because she had to  keep working. In another case, a woman at one of these plants was not allowed a bathroom break and urinated all over herself, and then she was forced to continue working until the end of the day, then she was disciplined for complaining about the incident.

Using Company Doctors To Deny Proper Healthcare:

Working in poultry plants is dangerous work. The factories are fast-paced with heavy machinery and it’s an extremely messy job. Injuries are commonplace and there are companies who pay for medical bills when there is an injury if the employee agrees to see a doctor that the company chooses. Sometimes these doctors withhold vital healthcare information from the employee. Other times employees are fired for seeking medical treatment.

In Mississippi an undocumented worker at a poultry plant “slipped on a floor with chicken fat and landed hard, [he] suffer[ed] two fractures in his back and a spinal dislocation” (Chandler). That sounds pretty serious, but the doctor he was sent to by his employer told him that his x-rays showed no injuries and that he should go back to work. As you can imagine, his pain was excruciating and he had to spend his days in the break room at work because being sent home would require the company to recognize his injury. This pain caused him to eventually seek out a second opinion and the second doctor looked at the original x-rays and found fractures that needed to be fixed through surgery. Due to the delay in care, the unnamed worker had to take a job that paid $200 less per week because of the chronic pain.

Denying proper healthcare is illegal, and there have been cases of employers who tried to deny benefits to undocumented workers in court and almost all those cases side with the employee and not the company.

Denying Childcare Assistance:

The United States is one of the few industrialized countries that offers shockingly little protection in the way of maternity leave. While 12 weeks of unpaid maternal leave are the maximum guaranteed by the Familiy and Medical Leave Act of 1993, there is no guarantee of paid leave, and this only applies to companies with 50 or more employees and who have worked over 1,250 hours in the past 12 months. Mothers who wish to take advantage of paid leave must use medical leave, they are treated like sick or injured workers, but this is not a federal mandate.

A poultry worker named Maria worked until she was eight months pregnant and then returned only two months after having her baby. She returned because her employer paid her only 60% of her salary and she could not afford to pay her bills on that income. Maria worked until nearly the end of her pregnancy, and this is not an uncommon occurrence, dangerous chemicals that workers encounter can damage fetal development. Once a child is born, they often are denied the benefit of breastfeeding because plants don’t offer daycare even though they are large companies with many employees. The World Health Organization recommends that children be breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months of their lives and then continue to breastfeed along with adding food until the age of two.

Children are affected by their parents inability to pay for and attend doctors visits. In a specific case, a mother waited to take her daughter in for an ear infection and her daughter was left with hearing loss in that ear.

Not to mention that child labor is a problem in the poultry industry. Tyson has topped lists of the worst companies by magazines such as Multinational Monitor because of child exploitation. Just last year, in 2012, a poultry plant owned by the House of Raeford in North Carolina was employing minors in dangerous jobs. A 15 year old was electrocuted and died in 1999 in a poultry plant.

What Can Be Done?

Each activist must recognize and use their privileges when confronting injustice. This blog post shows the kind of privilege I have, I have access to knowledge as well as the authority and ability to disseminate that knowledge. Educating my friends, family, peers, and readers is an essential part of the revolution. It is important to recognize that the position I am in is part of a hierarchy of privilege and is not the only action that must be taken.A unified opposition to the poultry industry must take place. Those who are most directly affected by the abuses must take a proactive stance and demand real and tangible change. Those who have the knowledge must make sure it is available to those who are in a position of vulnerability. English speaking co-workers must help their non-English speaking coworkers understand their rights. Unions must reach out to non-member coworkers and campaign on their behalf. As long as one of us is being exploited, we all suffer.

Daily choices are the biggest contributions anyone can make in the fight for equal rights, these actions include being aware of your purchase power. Know who you are buying from and understand how those purchases affect a greater corporate economy. Not purchasing factory farmed poultry as well as signing petitions, writing to lawmakers and becoming vocal are all feasible actions anyone can take. Once someone understands how they contribute to a structure of violence their actions begin to reflect that understanding and positive change ripples through their life. Changing the hearts, minds, and actions of friends and families will free us all from the grips of injustice.

Last updated January 27, 2018

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