Tuesday, January 25, 2005

All US Has To Offer Meat and Poultry Workers Is 'Blood, Sweat and Fear'

Now this is appropriate framing: Poor workplace safety conditions as a human rights violation, as opposed to just an inevitable cost of doing business.

"Workers in the U.S. meat and poultry industry endure unnecessarily hazardous work conditions, and the companies employing them often use illegal tactics to crush union organizing efforts," according to a new report by Human Rights Watch, a private group that operates worldwide defending human rights.

The 175-page report, “Blood, Sweat, and Fear: Workers’ Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants,” shows how the increasing volume and speed of production coupled with close quarters, poor training and insufficient safeguards have made meat and poultry work so hazardous. On each work shift, workers make up to 30,000 hard-cutting motions with sharp knives, causing massive repetitive motion injuries and frequent lacerations. Workers often do not receive compensation for workplace injuries because companies fail to report injuries, delay and deny claims, and take reprisals against workers who file them.

“A century after Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, workers in the meatpacking industry still face serious injuries,” said Jamie Fellner, director of the U.S. Program at Human Rights Watch. “Public agencies try to protect consumers from tainted meat, but do little to protect workers from unsafe conditions.”

The report looked at hog, poultry and beef plants run by Tyson Foods Inc., Smithfield Foods Inc. and Nebraska Beef Ltd. In addition to safety problems, the report fround that the "companies frequently deny workers' compensation to employees injured on the job, intimidate and fire workers who try to organize, and exploit workers' immigrant status in order to keep them quiet about abuses,"

The report called for companies to stop engaging in anti-union campaigns and for the the United States government to provide workers with the right to organize unions with harassment. The government should also provide rights and labor standards to all workers regardless of citizenship status. The report recommended that:
New federal and state laws should reduce line speed in meat and poultry plants and establish new ergonomics standards to reduce repetitive stress injuries. Health and safety authorities should apply stronger enforcement measures. States should develop stronger worker compensation laws and enforcement mechanisms.
Not true, says the American Meat Institute. Meat plants are safe, all injuries are reported, pay is good, workers are happy, and they don't want to join unions "because the workers see little or no value in union membership, given the wages being offered industry wide."

UPDATE: More stories on the report here:

Welcome to the Slaughterhouse Jungle : Human Rights Watch reports on OHS standards
by Katherine Stapp, Inter-Press Service

Meat Packing Industry Criticized on Human Rights Grounds

Meat worker safety criticized
by Reuters

Work Conditions at 3 Meat Plants Draw Fire
by AP, Kansas City Star

Rights group takes meatpackers to task
BY STEPHEN FRANKLIN, The Chicago Tribune

US meatpacking industry under fire
by Jeremy Grant, Financial Times, UK

Rights group targets Smithfield Foods
by Chris Flores, Hampton Roads Daily Press, VA

Meat plant in Bladen criticized
By KRISTIN COLLINS, News & Observer, NC

Report Finds Meatpackers Abuse Immigrants
Hispanic Business.com