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140 birds a minute

Thanksgiving is America's favorite holiday, but look behind the curtain of mass turkey production

Kris LaGrange's picture
Nov 22, 2016

As millions of people go to their local grocer to buy a turkey for their Thanksgiving feast, UCOMM Blog, has decided to look at the people who brought you the turkey and sadly it is not always a pretty sight.

In May, Oxfam America released a look into the poultry factories at the four biggest manufacturers. They looked at Tyson, Perdue, Pilgrim’s Pride and Sanderson Farms.  The report paints a picture of a difficult job that requires the line employees, outfitted in chainmail and armed with knives, standing in front of a conveyer belt making the same movement for hours at a time. This constant repetitive movement causes high rates of crippling injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome and other musculoskeletal issues. They are also required to meet exceedingly high daily quotas.   Since the quotas are so high, employees are not given bathroom breaks and many employees come to work in adult diapers so that they don’t receive retribution from their supervisors.  Due to the lack of breaks, Oxfam found that some workers defecate while working or restrict their liquid intakes to a dangerous level.  After reading this, you have to wonder if it is even sanitary to process food in these conditions.

The poultry business is a big money maker, making upwards of $45 Billion a year.  Like all businesses, they want to get the biggest bang for their buck.  According to the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU), employees are expected to process 140 birds a minute on the average disassembly line.  This is all done in near freezing temperatures to keep the poultry fresh. Due to the high speed, safety is often overlooked.  People working the line face an injury rate that is twice the US average and often suffer cuts and gashes, chemical burns, respiratory issues, and suffer a high number of slip and falls.  The employees go through all of this and are often paid very low wages. 

While some poultry plants are organized, many have moved to the South to avoid union organizing drives.  As they have moved production south, unions like RWDSU have expanded their organizing to bring these new factories into the union.  While they have had success at some, like organizing Pilgrim’s Pride Poultry in Russellville, Alabama, there are still many plants across the country that have subpar working conditions. This Thanksgiving, make sure that the turkey you buy is from a company that uses union labor to protect their workers.  You can find a full list of union made turkey on Labor 411.

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