Contact: Jeff Sheldon
Thanksgiving places the Human Cost of our food Front and Center
Poultry and meat workers call for safe working conditions, fair wages, and increased worker voice
As millions of Americans sit down for their Thanksgiving meal next week, most don’t think about of the grueling conditions that workers endure for the food to make it to their table. But on Thursday, a strong, growing chorus of voices concerned about the safety and health of poultry and meat processing workers urged companies to reduce the high number of crippling, repetitive-motion injuries, provide workers fair pay and benefits, and increase worker voice in poultry and meat plants across the country.
Today, Nebraska Appleseed co-hosted a webinar and media presentation with meat and poultry workers, joined by national human and worker rights advocates from across the country. The group chronicled the high rates of permanently disabling injuries, punishing work speeds, poverty-level wages, denial of bathroom breaks, unsafe working conditions, and a climate of fear that all are present in poultry and meatpacking plants.
“Workers in America’s turkey processing plants bring food to millions of families on Thanksgiving,” said Jessica Martinez, Acting Executive Director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH). “But their own families must deal with the reality of low wages, unsafe working conditions, and workplace intimidation.”
This year, Americans will consume an estimated 46 million turkeys at Thanksgiving. But, the price of these turkeys comes at a high human cost for workers whose industry contains little incentive for safe and dignified workplaces.
“On Thanksgiving, consumers should ask questions about the harsh working conditions behind the food on our plates,” said Omaid Zabih, a staff attorney for Nebraska Appleseed. “Many of the people who prepared it have suffered severe, crippling injuries to their hands and bodies, and we should continue to demand federal work speed protections to prevent these types of disabling injuries.”
“Poultry workers are the backbone of this multi-billion dollar industry, but they are treated as disposable and are often left physically destroyed by their work, said Sarah Rich, a staff attorney for the Immigrant Justice Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Many poultry plants have 100% turnover every year – the jobs are physically debilitating and are designed that way. Workers deserve dignity on the line, which means earning more than poverty wages and working in a safe and healthy environment.”
Last month, Oxfam America released a comprehensive, powerful report entitled “Lives on the Line: The Human Cost of Cheap Chicken,” which described and reaffirmed the extremely high rates of permanently crippling injuries, low wages, and a disturbing work environment that punishes workers for reporting injuries or unsafe work hazards in poultry plants across the country.
Organizations and workers participating in Thursday’s call included: Center for Progressive Reform, Greater Minnesota Worker Center, Interfaith Worker Justice, National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, National Council of La Raza, Nebraska Appleseed, Northwest Arkansas Workers Justice Center, Oxfam America, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Western North Carolina Workers Center.
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