It wouldn’t feel quite like Thanksgiving without the turkey. Getting turkeys from the farm to your plate is a complicated journey that involves the labor of a large number of hard-working people. The poultry industry is a nearly $50 billion industry with a quarter of a million workers in poultry processing plants. In poultry processing plants, workers are often treated like machines instead of people. Birds on the processing line go by at 50 per minute, a pace far too quick for workers to do their job safely. Workers are told they cannot use the bathroom when they need to. Managers are quick to replace workers when they speak out or are injured. This article, featuring our partners at the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center, takes a look at the conditions in turkey processing plants around Thanksgiving and all year long.
A Better Balance is proud to have been an Advisor on a recent report published by Oxfam about women working in the poultry industry. The poultry industry is a heavily female industry compared to many other physically demanding careers; approximately half of all workers are women. Work in the poultry processing plants is dangerous, demanding, and inflexible for all workers, but women may face particular risks because of many factors, including plant design, women’s disproportionate caretaking responsibilities and the resulting lack of recovery time, and limited job mobility. To read more about women in the poultry industry, read Women on the Line: A Review of Workplace Gender Issues in the US Poultry Industry.
Workers in low-income and physically demanding jobs like those in the poultry processing plants often face incredibly difficult barriers to providing for their families while also being there for their families. For example, we have heard from a female poultry plant worker that the pain in her hands from the repetitive and strenuous motions on the line is often so bad that she cannot play with her children when she gets home, and from a male poultry plant worker who was threatened with being fired for taking leave to care for his sick child. The workers who bring us our turkey and other poultry are people who work incredibly hard. We are proud to partner with advocacy groups and worker centers to work alongside them to improve working conditions in poultry plants.