As families across America prepare for large feasts this holiday season, central to those meals is a large bird. Stuffed. Trussed. Seasoned. Roasted. Fried. Slow-cooked. People give a great deal of thought to the ways in which the turkey, chicken, or duck is prepared. However, less thought is generally given to the labor and peril of workers who toiled to get it kitchen-ready.
A recent investigative report by The Investigative Fund and Slate Magazine reveals workers in the poultry industry endure grueling conditions, particularly in the lead up to major holidays toward the end of the year. Many of the workers are immigrants, the jobs are low-paying, and the rates of workplace injury and illness are high.
One worker explained the frenetic pace of being required to slice and de-bone the de-feathered turkeys with sharp knives – 47 birds per minute. That works out to 1,410 birds an hour, or 11,000 per shift. That’s in a normal shift. In preparation for the holidays, the pace is even faster.
Beginning in October, some companies reportedly require workers in their plants to work 50 days straight in order to meet quotas in advance of Thanksgiving. During this time, when many birds are sold fresh instead of frozen, the pace is reportedly 51 birds processed per worker per minute. At this pace, it is not unheard of that a single worker could cut up to 500,000 turkeys before getting a single day off.
Workers say they are told in training that if a bird gets by a plant worker, they should simply let it go because the risk of a laceration injury at that point is too high. However, those actually on the line say that as soon as that happens, they hear supervisors shouting at them for the error.
These conditions are exacerbated by the fact that workers are often denied bathroom breaks. Workers complain of becoming ill because they aren’t able to use the restroom. Some soil themselves. Others reportedly resort to wearing diapers. This in and of itself presents a risk of illness and infection.
Beyond that, workers report suffering serious laceration injuries. Many develop carpal tunnel syndrome from the fast, repetitive motion. Others are at risk of slip-and-fall accidents due to the slippery floor conditions.
On-site medical care, according to Slate, is reportedly lacking, staffed with minimally trained LPNs instead of the more highly trained RNs. Workers who require a few days off to recover are at risk of suspension or termination.
And yet companies report very low levels of injuries. One worker noted that as he sat in the nursing station with a back injury, he looked up to see three people waiting with swollen hands on ice and another with his shoulder wrapped in ice. Meanwhile, a sign in that very same waiting room indicated the company had gone eight million hours without a lost-time injury. That’s extremely impressive – and also practically impossible.
North Carolina is one of the world’s biggest producers of poultry. While these industries are central to our economy, it’s imperative that workers’ rights and well-being are protected. Workers should know that if they are injured on the job, they are entitled to pursue a claim for workers’ compensation – and be protected against retaliation for it.
Contact the Carolina workers’ compensation lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Dark Meat, Nov. 21, 2016, By Gabriel Thompson, The Investigative Fund/ The Nation Institute, Slate.com
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Repeat Violation for Worker Fall Risk Results in $143K OSHA Penalties, Nov. 18, 2016, Asheville Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog