I participated this week in an event intended to raise awareness in the faith community of the plight of poultry workers. This is an issue that’s been around for many years, but with the rising consumption of chicken in this nation, poultry workers are being required to worker faster than ever in dangerous conditions.
This matters to people of faith because scripture warns us to beware of trampling on the needy and bringing the poor to ruin (Amos 8:4-5). And, since many poultry workers are immigrants, such as Rosa from Guatemala who addressed us, we should remember to treat the alien as well as God treated the Israelites.
The poultry industry is concentrated in the hands of a small number of firms who market their product through dozens of brands. The typical poultry worker makes about $20,000 a year, about the same amount of money one of the CEOs makes in a single day.
Right now, the biggest request from poultry workers is that they be given bathroom breaks. Many of the workers have to wear adult diapers to work because they are not permitted to go to the toilet. One Minnesota poultry plant permits its workers two bathroom breaks per week.
Additionally, the rapid line speed at poultry plants means workers are making the same repetitive motions thousands of times a day, thereby leading to carpal tunnel syndrome, swelling, and, even, paralysis. Typically, poultry plants refer injured workers to doctors and nurses with which they have arrangements thereby helping to maintain a clean safety record. But, as Juanita, who worked for Tyson in North Carolina said, “There are some people with hands so swollen that their gloves don’t fit.”
The 2008 Social Creed of the National Council of Churches supports a family-sustaining wage with equal pay for comparable work, the rights of workers to organize and share in workplace decisions and productivity growth, and protection from dangerous working conditions with time and benefits to enable full family life.
All of us who are not vegetarians are implicated in the systematic mistreatment of hundreds of thousands of workers in poultry plants. We heard of a 17-year old who lost a leg while cleaning a plant machine and another young worker who lost their fingertips in another incident. In each avoidable instance, the worker was fired because, after all, they could no longer perform their jobs.
One small action you can take right now is to sign a petition, http://petition.wncworkerscenter.org/, supporting bathroom breaks at Case Farms in Morganton, NC. Encourage the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, at both the federal and state levels, to carry out inspections of poultry plants.
Among the stated purposes of the National Council of Churches is a desire on the part of the member communions to strive for peace and justice in the social, political and economic order. Here is another example of how we must stand together for the healing of the world.