Oxfam: Poultry Plant Workers Face Deplorable Conditions

JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A report released by Oxfam America on Wednesday alleges disturbing and dangerous conditions among employees at U.S. poultry processing plants, including a lack of adequate bathroom breaks.

The report is based on research done by Oxfam and partners at poultry plants around the country over the last three years. According to Oxfam, while the poultry industry is enjoying record profits, life as an employee is dangerous and grim. The report cites low wages, elevated rates of injury and illness, and a lack of voice within the workplace.

"Routinely, poultry workers say, they are denied breaks to use the bathroom. Supervisors mock their needs and ignore their requests; they threaten punishment or firing. Workers wait inordinately long times...then race to accomplish the task within a certain timeframe or risk discipline," the report reads. It also says that workers "urinate and defecate while standing on the line; they wear diapers to work; they restrict intake of liquids and fluids to dangerous degrees; they endure pain and discomfort while they worry about their health and job security."

The bathroom restrictions particularly impact women, who also have to deal with biological realities like "menstruation, pregnancy and higher vulnerability to infections" all while struggling to "maintain their dignity and privacy when requesting breaks," Oxfam says.

"Supervisors deny requests to use the bathroom because they are under pressure to maintain the speed of the processing line, and to keep up production," the report says.

One worker told Oxfam that a supervisor made fun of workers at his plant, saying they "eat too much so [they] go to the bathroom a lot." One poultry company in Mississippi even had female workers who alleged that a supervisor charged them money to use the bathroom.

"I've seen people pee on the line," one worker in Arkansas said. "And sometimes, when they're running to get to the bathroom, women pee on themselves." He also talked about an instance where he saw a man running towards the bathroom both urinate and defecate on himself. That man was sent home by a supervisor, he said.

According to the report, at least two workers said either they or their coworkers regularly wear diapers to work. One explained the reasoning, saying "because [she] can't go to the bathroom when she needs to because they don't let her."

Among the recommendations Oxfam made to companies such as Tyson Foods, Pilgrim's, Perdue and Sanderson Farms were the development of "specific commitments that workers have access to bathroom breaks whenever they are needed," ensuring that such policies are made public, and the creation of a system to allow workers to file grievances about being denied bathroom breaks, without fear of retribution.

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