For the next few weeks, we will continue to take an in-depth look at the powerful new report from Southern Poverty Law Center and Alabama Appleseed, Unsafe at These Speeds, that exposes the dangers poultry plants pose to workers and consumers. This post will examine the second section of the report, which focuses on how workers are afraid of reporting injuries and how poultry plants create policies that aim to limit medical treatment for their workers.
This morning, the Southern Poverty Law Center and Alabama Appleseed will hold a press conference to discuss their new report and to bring attention to a worrisome new rule that the USDA is preparing to implement. This rule would increase line speed in poultry plants, giving inspectors only 1/3 of a second to inspect each chicken — risking your food and workers’ safety. Take action to stop this rule!
When meatpacking and poultry workers experience pain or suffer injuries, they face a number of internal obstacles and constraints created by the employer that stand in the way of adequate medical treatment and recovery. As the new report indicates, with alarming frequency, employers prevent workers from seeing their own doctors or obtaining treatment outside the plant, and threaten to fire (and have fired) workers who have sought medical care from doctors and nurses who are not employed by the company. Sixty-six percent of workers surveyed believed co-workers were afraid to report injuries, and of that number, 78 percent concluded this apprehension was caused by fear of getting fired.
Workers who do visit company-employed nurses to get care for their pain and injuries often receive substandard treatment. Unsafe at These Speeds describes how company nurses tend to have the company’s best interest in mind instead of the worker, which leads to temporary and ineffective remedies such as taking aspirin, Band-Aids, or soaking hands in warm water. Furthermore, employers strongly encourage workers to tell the nurse that the injury did not arise from work.
Poultry workers often suffer harsh consequences, such as getting disciplined, threatened, or fired, if they visit the nurse too often. When Kendrick, a poultry worker, developed carpal tunnel syndrome he asked a nurse for a less-demanding work assignment. The nurse responded by asking “Do you want your job?”
Roberta, a young poultry worker, was fired because she went to the nurse three times to receive care for the pain in her wrists and hands. The plant believed three visits was too many. Samantha, another young worker, has the same story. She was fired for visiting the company nurse “one too many times.”
From its survey, the report provided the following statistics of workers who reported an injury to the plant:
- 33 percent described the medical treatment received from company nurses as inadequate (only 22 percent of reported injuries were met with adequate in-plant medical treatment)
- 45 percent were sent right back to their same job without access to treatment or time to recover when they tried to get medical care from the company
- Only 14 percent were given time off from work to heal
- 82 percent noted they were never sent to a doctor
- 50 percent of the time workers saw a doctor, they said the decision of when they returned to work was made by the poultry corporation rather than the treating doctor or injured worker.
As the Southern Poverty Law Center and Alabama Appleseed hold their press conference today, you can help by taking action on this issue to stop the USDA’s poultry rule, a proposal that will increase line speeds in poultry processing to even more unreasonable levels. Call your members of Congress and ask them to stop the USDA’s new poultry rule: one-third of a second per chicken isn’t enough to keep food and workers safe. Calling either number (the local or the D.C. office) is fine!
- Sen. Mike Johanns (202) 224-4224 or (402) 476-1400
- Sen. Deb Fischer (202) 224-6551 or (402) 441-4600
- Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (202) 225-4806 or (402) 438-1598
- Rep. Lee Terry (202) 225-4155 or (402) 397-9944
- Rep. Adrian Smith (202) 225-6435 or (308) 384-3900