Thursday, December 22, 2016

Workers describe rampant abuse at Alabama chicken processing plant

Please read the whole article at the following link.

Sam Thielman
Thursday 22 December 2016

Diego and Rogelio said working as third-shift janitors at the Farm Fresh Foods chicken processing plant meant breathing bleach fumes for so long they couldn’t sleep afterwards for the headaches. Then there was the chicken itself.

The pair, who asked that their real names be withheld, told the Guardian their story by phone through a translator provided by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which filed a complaint earlier this year on behalf of the men with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Osha) over the conditions at the Guntersville, Alabama, facility, owned by a local accountant named Eddie Hill.

Osha fined the company $30,000 last week for mistreating its employees and referred their complaints about having to handle raw chicken after cleaning the bathrooms to the US Department of Agriculture. Experts say worker abuse pervades the poultry industry, but the monitoring situation is likely to get worse under Donald Trump’s administration.
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The Farm Fresh Foods workers described retaliation from their supervisors when they complained, unsanitary conditions and being forced to race each other on a floor covered in standing water and chicken fat. And while the particulars may differ across processing plants, the chicken industry is rife with mistreatment.

Because employees at chicken processing plants are often undocumented, they’re less likely to complain about wage theft and illegal restrictions on bathrooms – a favorite tactic of processors trying to make their facilities more efficient, according to the SPLC.

An Oxfam America report issued in May called No Relief focused entirely on workers not being allowed to go to the toilet. It includes stories of laborers who said they were forced to wear diapers on the job because the penalties for taking too long in the bathroom were so severe. An SPLC report focused specifically on Alabama noted that nearly 80% of 300 workers surveyed said they had been denied bathroom breaks.

Because the facility did not have adequate drainage to disperse what the SPLC’s Isabel Otero described as “an enormous amount of Clorox” and no ventilation for its fumes, Diego and Rogelio’s eyes watered, their chests hurt, and they went for a full night and sometimes the rest of the following day without rest from the pain after the weekend cleanings, they said. They also said their supervisors would often wait outside while bleach fumes filled the room.


Their story might never have come to light if the company had not initially refused to pay them their final checks, prompting the initial complaint, the pair told the Guardian. They were paid after the SPLC intervened on their behalf, they said. “Wage theft is common in the poultry industry,” wrote the authors of another Oxfam America report on chicken processing.


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