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Paying A High Price for Cheap Chicken: Seeking Justice and Fairness for Poultry Workers

In an attempt to resurrect a proposal the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) already considered and rejected, Congressman Doug Collins from Georgia recently wrote a letter to the USDA requesting that they allow poultry plants to increase the speed at which the animals are processed from 140 birds per minute to 175 birds per minute, or 3 birds per second. The USDA rejected this proposal in 2014 and, as 40 organizations recently urged the Secretary of Agriculture, should do the same today.

Poultry workers already endure incredibly harsh and dangerous conditions and an increase would only pose a greater threat to the health, safety, and dignity of workers. Female poultry workers, who comprise nearly half of the 250,000 poultry workers in the U.S., face particular challenges working on the line. For instance, a recent report about women working in the poultry industry—authored by OxFam with guidance from ABB—pointed out that female workers are more susceptible to injury because the equipment is designed for the size of an average man. Pregnant workers often face additional challenges. Workers are often denied bathroom breaks, which can be particularly difficult for pregnant women who may require more bathroom breaks due to hormonal changes or increased pressure on their bladder during pregnancy. Some workers even resort to wearing diapers on the line. Or they are forced to dehydrate themselves to avoid having to use the bathroom, which can lead to pregnancy complications. Increasing line speeds would only exacerbate the dangerous and denigrating conditions workers already experience.

Poultry workers—women and men alike—deserve to work in an environment where they are treated with basic decency and respect and have rights that ensure they need not compromise their health for the sake of their economic security. Last week, ABB attended a convening of the Poultry Workers Coalition in Morganton, N.C., where workers shared their experiences about the struggles and harsh conditions they face every day. We thank Oxfam, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Western North Carolina Workers’ Center for their leadership in organizing the convening. Guided by workers’ needs and priorities, A Better Balance is working in partnership with the coalition to effectuate real change in the industry.