Trying to Keep the Poultry Workers Safe

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary

by Daniel Nardini

Recently, the U.S. government fined Wayne Farms, a poultry plant located in Jack, Alabama, a total of $102,600.for at least 11 safety violations. These violations included threatening workers not to report work-related injuries, dangerous equipment and inadequate safety measures, industrial line speed-ups, lack of sanitation, and threats against workers of either being fired or deported. The employees at the plant are a combination of U.S. citizens and immigrants (both legal and undocumented). This plant was notable for processing poultry for food consumption. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) carried out the investigation that eventually led to Wayne Farms being fined.

Of all the workers interviewed, many had suffered some form of injury while on the job. These injuries ranged from tunnel vision to debilitating pain in their hands to respiratory problems, cuts, gnarled fingers and chemical burns. The company ordered the workers to not report their injuries or told the medical staff in the company’s medical clinic to not report the workers’ injuries—thus either not reporting or under-reporting what workers at the plant had suffered. Plant speed-ups to meet production quotas led to greater worker injuries, and dangerous worker exhaustion that put poultry workers in serious jeopardy of injury or death. The company used the threats of firing workers or deportation (as well as “other threats” such as violence) against the workers so that they would not report what they had been put through.

Fortunately, someone was brave enough to alert OSHA against the practices taking place at Wayne Farms. Still, this just represents a drop in the bucket with how poultry workers are treated throughout the United States. Many of our poultry workers are Latino (both immigrants and U.S. citizens), and sadly OSHA remains a badly under-funded part of the U.S. government. Poultry workers perform hard, back-breaking jobs as it is. Having their lives put in jeopardy for the profits of those companies that break the rules is intolerable. It is unfortunate that OSHA does not have the means to deal with each and every poultry plant or poultry food processing company that do not play by the safety rules. This is why it is necessary for OSHA to be given more funding and for OSHA to have in place better programs to protect those whistle-blowers who stick their necks out to protect themselves and their fellow workers. Trying to keep America’s poultry workers safe should be a top priority not only for them but for the safety of America’s poultry and meat supplies.

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