Playing Chicken with Workers’ Safety?

Guadalupe, a mother of young children in North Carolina, can’t pick her kids up to comfort them when they cry.  If she does, sharp pain shoots through her arms, chest, and back.  Lifting used to be Guadalupe’s job.  As a poultry processing worker, she spent hours each day reaching above her head to hang chicken carcasses on a production line.  Keeping up with the line speed was almost impossible and her arms would go numb from the work.  Eventually, Guadalupe’s doctor diagnosed her with a repetitive motion injury in her elbow and ordered her not to lift more than five pounds.  When Guadalupe tried to follow the doctor’s orders, she was fired.

Guadalupe is no exception.  Line speed is hurting many workers in poultry processing plants.

Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) wants to let plants run their lines even faster—increasing the speed limit from 140 to 175 birds per minute!  What’s worse is that USDA apparently has no plan for greater oversight and monitoring of worker safety for companies that increase production line speeds.

More than half a million people are employed in meat and poultry production in the U.S.  Injuries like Guadalupe’s, as well as cuts and falls, are common among workers because of crowded conditions and fast-moving lines.  Jorge, a poultry worker in Alabama, is required to hang 64 dead chickens per minute.  At that speed, Jorge says, “many times I have to dislodge chickens and re-hang them when they get stuck on conveyer belts and pile up on the tables.”

Ironically, USDA wants to increase line speed as an incentive for poultry companies to “modernize” their plants to improve food safety.  In reality, faster line speeds would turn back the clock to a dark chapter of American history when businesses had no responsibility for the health and safety of workers.

Is USDA really willing to risk severed limbs and debilitating injuries?  Tell USDA Secretary Vilsack to withdraw the proposed poultry rule. 

Guadalupe, Jorge, and other poultry workers are depending on you.

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