Food is not always something that you put in your mouth and eat!

Posts tagged ‘DOL’

History Repeats Itself

Denial of bathroom use at forefront of poultry worker complaints

A friend sent me a post from the U.S. Department of Labor blog to settle a friendly dispute over poultry processing works rights and free access to the bathroom. I was adamant in my belief that poultry workers had “at need access” in using a bathroom because this same abuse was fought at least 15 years ago by a community organization I worked for, the Delmarva Poultry Justice Alliance (DPJA). I’m going back to the late 1990’s – early 2000’s.

At that time the basic right of workers using a bathroom was denied because it would slow down or stop the processing line. To do so would cost the company dollars and in their greed stopping the line was not an option.

I was shocked to learn that people were denied use of the bathroom and I couldn’t fathom urinating on one’s self. I doubt that most of us could identify with such conditions, let alone being the one to say “no you can’t use the bathroom”. Unfortunately, my tenure as the executive director of DPJA brought many such shocks, and not to discount other serious issues, right now, I’m taking about using the bathroom.

No poultry company on the Delmarva Peninsula was immune from the complaints made by their workers. Stories from the workers encompassed many complaints such as urinating on their selves, pregnant workers being denied bathroom use as needed, and break time lines for bathroom use so long that the ten minutes allowed for a break were eaten up just standing in line waiting to use a toilet.

From the industry point of view, excuses were made such as workers abused bathroom breaks, no alternate or fill in workers were available to replace a worker leaving the line, and they get a ten-minute break to use the bathroom. Company flat out denial of worker complaints was the most used response.

Any worker who complained to supervisors or company powers that be, very quickly found their selves out the door. As most workers were undocumented immigrants, fear of reprisals kept them quiet. From my point of view I found it as being a method of control and exploitation.

As a matter of fact, DPJA lead a protest in Georgetown, DE, in front of one Delmarva poultry processing plant to deliver a letter to the company owner as an informational method of complaints by workers for abuses occurring inside the plant. The protest involved community members, church leaders, workers, and alliance members. Denial of bathroom use was one of the worker’s complaints. Afterwards workers reported that some things had changed and that those abusing basic human rights for workers were no longer there.

Fast forward to 2016

From all indications and as much as I hate to say it, my friend is correct. I have to concede to her as the winner of our debate. What a hollow victory! It boggles my mind to think that the very same issue is once again at the forefront of poultry processing plant worker’s complaints. Did industry learn nothing or is it a matter of continuing with a bad legacy until caught? I’m not particularly fond of the saying, “history repeats itself”, especially when it is a not so good history.

“For some workers, a simple trip to the bathroom could result in the loss of a job. Poultry-processing workers are sometimes disciplined for taking bathroom breaks while at work because there is no one available to fill in for them if they step away from the production line. Some workers have reported that they wear diapers and restrict liquid intake in an effort to avoid using the bathroom. No one should have to work under these conditions. All workers have a right to a safe workplace, and that includes access to readily available sanitary restroom facilities on the job. Poultry processing is one of the most dangerous industries in the United States, and readily accessible restrooms are only one of many problems that workers in this industry face.” Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Although this blog post was written back in July 2016, it’s relevant to the debate between my friend and I. She further burst my bubble with a link to a 2015 report published by Oxfam America. After reading it I thought to myself that nothing has changed. Over all of the time that passed between my employment at DPJA to the 2015 Oxfam report the simple basic human right of using the bathroom is being denied by employers in the poultry industry.

Coming from a common sense point of view, it’s obvious that denial of bathroom use is blatant and those practicing the behavior are unashamed. I think it takes a seriously disturbed person to find amusement in the behavior indicated in the Oxfam report.

“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 (an hour or more), then race to accomplish the task within a certain timeframe (e.g., ten minutes) or risk discipline.” Quote from Oxfam America report, “No Relief, Denial of Bathroom Breaks In The Poultry Industry

For poultry workers having to come forward and speak about the goings on inside processing plants must be a humiliating experience. I, myself, wouldn’t want to have to tell anyone that I wear a diaper to work or that I defecate or urinate on myself while working. I can’t imagine!

Where are those who would ensure such a basic right? This type of abuse should not be tolerated by poultry company owners, stockholders, or consumers. Obviously, our government is aware of the situation, what is being done about it? We are supposed to be a civilized society. Is the processing of one more chicken, in the millions that are slaughtered every day, more important?

This subject started as a friendly debate and has turned in to a feeling of outrage. Again! I’m sure that I’ll write plenty more on this subject as I digest all that I’ve read. What does it take to end a vicious cycle of history repeating itself?

Labor Day….. what is that?

While I was delivering eggs yesterday (Friday) a person asked me if I was off on Monday, Labor Day.  I looked at this person like they had grown three heads and said “are you kidding”?  Believe it or not this person wasn’t joking.  I explained, very nicely, that no, on the farm there aren’t any days off!  They shook their head and looked like it was inconceivable to think of no days off.  The conversation was quite humorous to my way of thinking.

That conversation set my mind to whirling (oh no) and I realized that anyone not familiar with the farming world would not know how everything keeps going on holidays.  Thinking back to when I was a beginning farmer I remember getting upset with my husband on Labor Day because he was running the combine to get the corn out of the fields.  I quickly learned that we don’t take days off.

I realize that there are other industries, almost all nowadays, that continue to operate no matter what day it is, however I’m talking about farming.  There are always “chores” to do on the farm and someone has to do them.  Every day is a “Labor Day” and believe me, it’s not a holiday.

Animals still eat and need to be cared for no matter which day it is.  Vegetables and fruits in season need to be harvested the day they are ripe. Deliveries from farm to store still get delivered.  There are a million and one things to do every day!  During my mind whirling, I wondered if people realize this.  I mean no disrespect, however I do think that the food bought in stores is totally disconnected from its origins.  I further believe that our children are clueless from this and just expect it to be there.

I fantasized about taking Monday off and what it would mean to me……  First and foremost, the chickens would have to fend for their selves.  I wouldn’t go near them the entire day.  They might have something to eat and they might not.  If they are thirsty and don’t have water they will have to make do.  No eggs will be collected, washed, packed, or refrigerated no matter what including risk of contamination.  I’ll take the attitude of “yeah well today is a holiday I’ll do it tomorrow”!  I might even take a nap in the afternoon and I’m definitely not cooking any meals or doing any household chores.

Although it was nice while it lasted, my bubble soon burst and the fantasy came to an end!

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the first national governmental recognition of Labor Day was in 1894.  “Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country”.  The earliest history of Labor Day goes further back to 1882.

The tradition and real purpose of Labor Day has been lost.  While I went to the U.S. Department of Labor’s website to research its view and statement about Labor Day, I came away with cynical thoughts….. imagine that!  I won’t go there at this time except to say “practice what you are preaching”.

Most people view Labor Day as a day off coinciding with a weekend therefore having a “long weekend” off.  Does anyone nowadays even know the history or purpose of Labor Day?  Do we teach it to our children or is it viewed by them as an extra day off from school, yippee!

As everyone enjoys their Labor Day picnic, barbecue, or relaxing day at home, the park, or beach think about the food you enjoy and give a thought to the farmer who is working this day to bring it to your plate.  Happy Labor Day!