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Workers processing poultry
One federal agency studied workers at a South Carolina poultry processing plant and found that 42 percent had "evidence of carpal tunnel syndrome," while 41 percent "worked in jobs above the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists’ threshold limit value for hand activity and force." At the same time, another federal agency is talking about making changes that would allow companies to speed up poultry processing. The sky-high rates of carpal tunnel were found by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, while the U.S. Department of Agriculture could change poultry inspection procedures, speeding them up and in turn speeding up the rate at which processing lines operate. Dave Jamieson reports that:
USDA officials have told stakeholders privately that the change wouldn't impact line workers, drawing a distinction between the slaughtering process, where the speedup would occur, and the processing line, where most workers toil.

But critics like Tony Corbo, a lobbyist at the watchdog group Food & Water Watch, say that if chickens are being slaughtered at a faster rate, then it stands to reason they will be processed at a faster rate as well. Corbo told HuffPost he's skeptical that poultry plants, well-known for their tight controls on labor costs, will be eager to add more workers to the lines to account for a slaughtering speedup. Many plant employees already work essentially shoulder-to-shoulder, he noted.

It's insane, incredibly stupid, or brazenly disingenuous to think that if poultry plants have more chickens to process, they won't try to make their workers do it faster. This is an industry with a lot of immigrants and other vulnerable workers, people the companies can push to the point of physical harm while exploiting them economically as well. And the USDA doesn't have to care about that. The USDA is about keeping food safe, not keeping workers safe. Which is why someone else in the Obama administration should be looking at this situation and saying that even if the USDA thinks it can inspect chickens faster than it is right now without compromising the safety of consumers, the workers cutting up those chickens deserve some protection, too.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 11:47 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  OSHA Ergonomics Standard rests in history (5+ / 0-)

    It became effective January 2001 but was repealed by Congress March 2001. OSHA enforcement rests on the "General Duty Clause".

    •  That was my question (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ginny in CO

      Where the hell is OSHA here?

      (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
      Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

      by Sparhawk on Sat Jun 08, 2013 at 08:52:20 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  OSHA has been AWOL since at least (0+ / 0-)

        Bush I, most likely Raygun. The West, TX fertilizer plant had not had an OSHA inspection since '85.

        While USDA is underfunded, it is also very captured. OSHA has been significantly underfunded for decades. Having worked with the regs and inspections in health care, they do a lot for what they have to work with. Health care gets more attention since the providers have to pass inspections in order to qualify for Medicare and Medicaid payments. (Which influences private insurers as well.)

        "People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed; never throw out anyone. " Audrey Hepburn "A Beautiful Woman"

        by Ginny in CO on Sat Jun 08, 2013 at 11:04:21 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Hah... (0+ / 0-)

        ..OSHA is so under-funded it would take about a century to clear what they have on-deck up to NOW.

        Don't get me started about carpal tunnel, the USPS, and OSHA.

        What a joke.

        "Wealthy the Spirit which knows its own flight. Stealthy the Hunter who slays his own fright. Blessed is the Traveler who journeys the length of the Light."

        by CanisMaximus on Sat Jun 08, 2013 at 11:07:59 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  One of my summer jobs... (6+ / 0-)

    ...during college was at a poultry processing plant (Tyson's). It was physically demanding work, and performed in pretty tough conditions. So many of my fellow employees had repetitive motion injuries, probably a majority wore armbands, wrist supports, etc. for carpal tunnel and other ailments. I guess the thinking is that those workers are at the bottom already, and thus expendable/easily replaced.

  •  My dad made me apply at the chicken processing (3+ / 0-)

    plant. I have never smelled anything so horrible. The interviewer said does the smell bother you.  

    Gag, no, Gag.

    The smell part was separate from the cut up part, but it was so bad.

    Get the 'oopsie' out of 'keep and bear arms' see GunFAIL and Gun Crazy diaries weekly.

    by 88kathy on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 12:56:31 PM PDT

    •  My Dad had to off the chickens on the farm he (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      88kathy

      worked at to eat until he was old enough to enlist during WWII.  He found it quite unpleasant and avoids chicken to this day.

      ...Son, those Elephants always look out for themselves. If you happen to get a crumb or two from their policies, it's a complete coincidence. -Malharden's Dad

      by slowbutsure on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 05:01:28 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  My grandma could have a chicken frying up in the (0+ / 0-)

        pan before you made it up the driveway. But the farm is so different from the factory. You could smell this in the parking lot!!!  I am so glad I didn't get that job.

        Get the 'oopsie' out of 'keep and bear arms' see GunFAIL and Gun Crazy diaries weekly.

        by 88kathy on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 05:38:24 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  So they COULD cut staff 20% NOW but don't (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    207wickedgood, slowbutsure, scotths

    because ...?

    It's insane, incredibly stupid, or brazenly disingenuous to think that if poultry plants have more chickens to process, they won't try to make their workers do it faster.

    Too late for the simple life, too early for android love slaves - Savio

    by Clem Yeobright on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 01:09:48 PM PDT

    •  Specialization. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      207wickedgood, slowbutsure

      Firing a specialist means somebody else has to do multiple tasks, which is generally much less efficient.

      What are you doing to fight the dangerous and counterproductive error of treating dirtbag terrorist criminals as though they were comic book supervillains? I can't believe we still have to argue this shit, let alone on Daily Kos.

      by happymisanthropy on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 01:53:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Doesn't sound logical... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Sparhawk, Sanuk

        The jobs on a chicken processing line are somewhat specialized of course. However, it seems likely that cross training should be fairly quick - i.e., teaching someone who is already an expert at severing wings as a carcass comes by on its "stand" could likely be taught in a few hours to do a credible job at severing drumsticks or thighs and should be very good at it after a few shifts.

        Having watched videos of chicken processing lines, there seem to be a LOT of people doing each job such as severing wings from passing birds. Tyson doesn't seem to have just one or two "wing severing experts" on each shift at each plant.

        Remember, about 9 billion broilers are processed each year in the United States at about 185 slaughter/evisceration plants. There clearly aren't just a few dozen workers who can sever wings efficiently!

        Likely, the number of chickens Tyson can sell is not driven by their limited capacity to inspect or cut up/package the chickens but by various market forces. If the time required to inspect each chicken drops, likely the plant's output won't increase significantly since demand for chickens would not rise significantly as a result. (A slight increase in production might result since reducing the labor per chicken allowing the chickens to be sold for slightly less and result in cost conscious consumers more often choosing "chicken" instead of "beef"). More likely, some percentage of the inspector positions would be eliminated and line output would remain virtually unchanged.

  •  Damn the humans! Speed up production! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    terrybuck, 207wickedgood, slowbutsure

    So we can sell more chicken to...ah, humans.

    When you are right you cannot be too radical; when you are wrong, you cannot be too conservative. --Martin Luther King Jr.

    by Egalitare on Thu Jun 06, 2013 at 01:47:58 PM PDT

  •  I heard industry testify in Washington (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    denise b

    about the Ergonomics Standard. They all believed it should be voluntary even though there didn't seem to be any good examples of where voluntary compliance to standards actually prevented workplace injuries.

    I also have heard workers from many sectors say that they just take it for granted that in their trade a person isn't  going to get numb hands and/or other painful and deblitating work-related syndromes by the time they reach a certain age.

    It doesn't have to be this way.

    Full disclosure:  I was disabled by what should have been a preventable workplace injury.

    •  Re (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ignacio Magaloni
      They all believed it should be voluntary even though there didn't seem to be any good examples of where voluntary compliance to standards actually prevented workplace injuries.
      To be fair, you can't prove a negative. How do you know if something has been "prevented"?

      (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
      Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

      by Sparhawk on Sat Jun 08, 2013 at 08:55:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Compare incidence of injury rates of workers (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Faito

        in plants without compliance to those that do comply. Related to years worked, etc. Basic medical research.

        Having done worker's comp case management, I would lay money on the stats being available. The CEOs just don't want to admit it. Let the Congress people spend their time and money to find the info.

        If there are some really good progressives in there, they already have the info and are just checking to see what the CEO's will use for CYA.

        "People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed; never throw out anyone. " Audrey Hepburn "A Beautiful Woman"

        by Ginny in CO on Sat Jun 08, 2013 at 10:49:12 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  More effects from speedups (4+ / 0-)

    The lines are now moving too fast to check chickens for contamination, so they're dousing them with disinfectant chemicals so toxic that they may have killed a poultry inspector:
    http://articles.washingtonpost.com/...

    Freedom isn't free. Patriots pay taxes.

    by Dogs are fuzzy on Sat Jun 08, 2013 at 08:38:04 PM PDT

    •  Well if that doesn't convince us to (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Naniboujou

      go organic only, or at least give up on chicken, we are nuts.

      I'm having hard time with the idea they don't have some very good information on the known health effects of many of those chemicals. They are called Material Safety Data Sheets. MSDS. It is up to the manufacturers of the chemicals to provide the data sheets (they are available on line).

      The company must have them readily available to workers and especially point out those that the worker will use or be exposed to in their job. Employee safety regs also include biohazards.

      Just saw a report in the past few days on research on meat that has been prepared by tenderizing with punctures from the flesh near the skin deeper into the meat. It increases the number of germs and requires cooking to a higher temp. Packaging will probably be required to state that.

      "People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed; never throw out anyone. " Audrey Hepburn "A Beautiful Woman"

      by Ginny in CO on Sat Jun 08, 2013 at 11:29:13 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Missing Fingers and Limbs one would think (0+ / 0-)

    be the result of speeding up the process given the nature of the process so carpal tunnel would be the lesser of issues.

    I want 1 less Tiny Coffin, Why Don't You? Support The President's Gun Violence Plan.

    by JML9999 on Sat Jun 08, 2013 at 08:40:05 PM PDT

  •  I realize I'll get in trouble, but (8+ / 0-)

    it may be time for folks to stop eating chickens. Lots of salmonella and other diseases come from these places in addition to the horrific treatment of workers.

    Also -- how many of these places are owned by liberals? Stop supporting people who treat people and animals so horribly.

    Will it be difficult? Possibly --- but this 50-something former football playing native West Texan has been doing it (and not eating any meat for that matter) for more than 15 years. It can be done.

    •  I've gone almost completely vegetarian. (4+ / 0-)

      Just gradually substituting vegetarian foods for poultry and fish. I gave up eating anything with four feet years ago. If you look at it as adding new foods that you like instead of taking away old favorites, it's a lot easier.

      Obama is the Chickenshit-in-Chief for failing to stand up to Republicans on all their phony scandals, from the "beer summit," to Van Jones, "death panels," Shirley Sherrod, contraception, Benghazi, and the IRS.

      by expatjourno on Sat Jun 08, 2013 at 08:54:56 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  So do you supplement or not supplement with (0+ / 0-)

        B vitamins?  Apparently there are several popular vegan doctors who say that concerns about low vitamin B levels are bullshit and that you shouldn't even bother with a blood test because low blood levels don't mean anything and there is no such thing as vitamin B deficiency.

        You have watched Faux News, now lose 2d10 SAN.

        by Throw The Bums Out on Sun Jun 09, 2013 at 01:32:42 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Oh, I always take a multivitamin, multi-mineral... (0+ / 0-)

          ...tablet.

          But I'd really never thought of it in terms of vegetarianism. Mostly force of habit, I guess.

          Obama is the Chickenshit-in-Chief for failing to stand up to Republicans on all their phony scandals, from the "beer summit," to Van Jones, "death panels," Shirley Sherrod, contraception, Benghazi, and the IRS.

          by expatjourno on Sun Jun 09, 2013 at 07:36:46 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Love it when people choose chicken (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ginny in CO

      because it's healthier.

    •  complain online, buy ceap meat at store (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Naniboujou, True North, Faito

      Though I do advocate a meatless diet, that is not even the point.  The point is that we blame greedy corporation or a corrupt government, but it really is the consumer that drives these decisions.  We want cheap meat so we can gorge ourselves then throw away the left overs.

      The reality is that the US eats a third more meat than we need, and three times as much meat as many other countries.  What this means is that if we are paying $6 a pound for the amount of meat that we currently eat, we could be paying $8 a pound for the amount of meat that we need.  That money could then go into paying higher wages and supporting slower lines.

      That would also mean that there would a 33% reduction in land that is razed to support livestock.  A 33% reduction in the waste that is polluting so many rivers.  A 33% reduction in other pollutants.  Not to mention a reduction in the use of fresh water that is becoming a critically rationed resource.

      Some might say that the greedy corporations will just eat the extra profits.  OTOH the market forces are encouraging livestock to be treated much better.  Chickens, for instance, are less likely to be raised in cramped cages.  In fact the animals are likely to be treated better than the workers, at least until they are slaughtered.

      So if we are concerned about workers, we have to put the same pressure that we put on treating the animals better, and this is going to mean higher prices, though not necessarily high overall costs.  Much of this can be simply a reduction in waste.  Order one entree for two people at a restaurant.  Instead of throwing away the carcass at home, make a soup.  And, of course, a bean burrito is nutritionally complete food with 400 calories, 5 g fiber, 15 g protein, as little fat as you wish to include, and as many vitimins and rocks as are in the salsa.

    •  No you won't get in trouble. (0+ / 0-)

      My first thought is that I might choose to stop eating chicken, or at least anything not raised locally. I already avoid anything with "Tyson" on it like the plague.

      The more we are, the less we need.

      by Fiddlegirl on Sun Jun 09, 2013 at 04:34:14 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Americans eat too much meat and chicken. (0+ / 0-)

      Not good for the humans or the animals.

      If I had one wish, Republican men would have uteruses.

      by Desert Rose on Sun Jun 09, 2013 at 05:46:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  And when those workers file for disability, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    terrybuck, Ginny in CO, Naniboujou

    Republicans will begrudge them compensation.

    "The human eye is a wonderful device. With a little effort, it can fail to see even the most glaring injustice." Richard K. Morgan

    by sceptical observer on Sat Jun 08, 2013 at 08:48:48 PM PDT

  •  But this is not Obama's fault. (0+ / 0-)

    His administration would like to do better, but there's that darn 60-vote threshold.

    Obama is the Chickenshit-in-Chief for failing to stand up to Republicans on all their phony scandals, from the "beer summit," to Van Jones, "death panels," Shirley Sherrod, contraception, Benghazi, and the IRS.

    by expatjourno on Sat Jun 08, 2013 at 08:51:30 PM PDT

    •  Even if the Senate passes something, (0+ / 0-)

      the House has the darn purse strings. And they wield them without any regard to legislation that has been passed.

      "People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed; never throw out anyone. " Audrey Hepburn "A Beautiful Woman"

      by Ginny in CO on Sat Jun 08, 2013 at 11:33:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Of course. Unlike all previous presidents, (0+ / 0-)

        Obama has absolutely no responsibility for any of the policy decisions made by the executive branch of government, because he is the best of all presidents in the best of all possible worlds.

        That means that unlike all previous presidents, he's also not responsible for anything the "Justice" Department or the NSA does, either. And God knows he had nothing to do with continuing the war in Iraq or escalating in Afghanistan or drone strikes or ordering the assassinations of American citizens or refusing to release Guantanamo prisoners who have been cleared or keeping restrictions on the availability of Plan B.

        Nope. The buck obviously began stopping on someone else's desk when he was elected.

        Obama is the Chickenshit-in-Chief for failing to stand up to Republicans on all their phony scandals, from the "beer summit," to Van Jones, "death panels," Shirley Sherrod, contraception, Benghazi, and the IRS.

        by expatjourno on Sun Jun 09, 2013 at 07:46:37 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Easy for you to say; you're an ex-pat. (0+ / 0-)

          Clearly it's soooo brave of you to say that...from wherever the hell you are. So damned easy to criticize in this world now.

          Just because Obama's human, is hamstrung by a Republican Congress he didn't want, and can't change the world at the pace you want, you snipe from the shadows at him. He's taking hits as a Jackie Robinson of the political world would. What do you want? Him declaring martial law to make America a socialist vegan paradise?

          No, he's not going at the pace I would like to see, either, and I disagree with him frequently over some basic tenets of constitutionality- but for the most part, he's a creature Congress made by their lack of leadership over the last 35 years or so.

          Projecting much? I protested on the streets of Madison - the only reason I didn't do it more is I needed to work at the same time. My wife and I passed out water bottles in the Capitol. We failed to topple Walker, but we learned tons from the experience. You fled and apparently gloat about it. Well, aren't you ever so smart?

          So, who's the chickenshit? Get your ass back in the country or at least stop acting like we're not worthy of your ideas. Either make change yourself, get together with like-minded people, or shut your fat yap. Change is harder than one can speak about it.

          Rant over.

          `Ideology offers human beings the illusion of dignity and morals while making it easier to part with them.'- Vaclav Havel

          by Black Brant on Sun Jun 09, 2013 at 07:41:52 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  capitalism (0+ / 0-)

    I like to buy boneless & skinless thighs, and I always look for the best price!

  •  Insane, incredibly stupid or brazenly disingenuous (0+ / 0-)

    That's USDA on almost any issue. I've been following what their activities years, and it never gets any better. It's an entrenched institutional culture that is highly resistant to change.

  •  If you want cheap chicken... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Faito

    If you want your eggs for $1.00-$2.00 a dozen, this is what you are going to get.
    If you want your chicken for $1.00 a pound this is what you are going to get.

    Of course, those cheap eggs are going to be bland & runny.

    The chicken meat is going to be tasteless and mushy – because: it was only 6-8 weeks old when slaughtered, it was fed a bland mix of ground grains, it was probably given antibiotics to keep it alive and growing, and it never used it muscles do anything besides eat and drink.

    We have over one hundred free-range chickens that eat a varied diet of insects, plants, and whatever they catch out the woods.  The eggs have yolks that are bright yellow and stand up in the pan.  If you bake with them, the cake is going to be superior to what you would bake with store-bought eggs.  If you eat one of our chickens, it tastes like chicken.  Most people don’t realize that non-factory farmed chickens actually have flavor.  

    We sell our eggs at the Palafox Farmers Market Palafox FM in Pensacola, Florid for $5.00 a dozen, and the other farmers sell their butchered chicken for $3-4 a pound.  We work incredibly hard for a very small amount of money, but I couldn’t sleep at night if I raised chickens and eggs like the big factory farms.  

    I'll put on my glasses.... and tell you how sweet your ass is. (w/ apologies to Señor Bega)

    by mHainds on Sun Jun 09, 2013 at 06:24:36 AM PDT

    •  Sounds like (0+ / 0-)

      the farmers in America who are striving to raise pigs in an ethical way, and one upside is that the pork tastes a lot better.  

      Harper's mag mentioned Niman Ranch Pork in an article about this type of thing a few years ago.  The book "Pig Perfect" sheds some light on why pork doesn't taste like it should in the US.

      "Swine of the Times"
      The making of the modern pig
      By Nathanael Johnson (Haper's 2006 May issue)

      Harper's link is here.

  •  Cut up your own chicken (0+ / 0-)

    This article just changed me. Buying only local, free range, cutting up myself.  Not fully veg yet, but articles like this keeping pushing me closer to it.

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