Last month Oxfam America released a report on the poultry industry, “Lives on the Line, The Human Cost of Cheap Chicken.” The report shows how the American demand for cheap chicken has not only driven growth in the $50 billion industry, but has also driven up the line speed – the number of birds per minute that workers are expected to process.  Oxfam says that “the upper limit on line speed has increased from 70 birds per minute in 1979, to 91 in 1999, to 140 today.”  140 is the maximum line speed set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but the industry would like it to be even higher.  The report estimates that in order to keep up with this production rate workers repeat the same motion at least 20,000 times per day.  Unsurprisingly, poultry workers experience high rates of repetitive strain injuries and other workplace injuries.

The line speed and associated health issues are just one of the problems for low-wage workers in this industry.  The report also discusses other health issues like not being allowed to take bathroom breaks, poverty level wages, rampant wage theft, discrimination and harassment.  Oxfam calls on Pilgrim’s, Perdue, Sanderson Farms and Tyson Foods – the top four poultry companies representing 60% of the market – to take affirmative steps to change the industry.

North Carolina is #3 in poultry production and it is our state’s top agricultural commodity.  North Carolina poultry producers can afford to treat their employees better.  But while we wait on the industry to make the much needed changes, NC OSHA should quickly adopt a “Special Emphasis Program” to increase the number of inspections of poultry plants.  Many of our neighboring states have recently adopted such a program under the supervision of federal OSHA and North Carolina has been strongly encouraged to do the same.

Check out the interactive website for Lives on the Line and read more about the poultry industry from the Charlotte Observer.


The Second Cooler, a film by Ellin Jimmerson and narrated by Martin Sheen, is a documentary about the struggle for migrant justice.  Although the film primarily focuses on Arizona, the issues it highlights are very relevant right here in North Carolina: anti-immigrant state policies, the abuses in the H-2B and H-2A guestworker programs, the lack of way for poor Mexicans to legally immigrate to the United States, and the devastating impact of free trade agreements on Mexico driving Mexicans to migrate north.

Check out the trailer below and then follow this link to purchase the whole movie.  As an added bonus, purchasing the video through that link means you are supporting the work of the North Carolina Justice Center on behalf of immigrants in North Carolina as Ellin Jimmerson has agreed to share a portion of the proceeds with us. Thanks for your support!


PV-contingent-work1Our new report, “The Age of Contingent Employment: How changes in employment relationships are impacting worker wages, power and prospects”, highlights the explosive growth of the use of temporary staffing agencies to supply workers and how that harms our economy. Meanwhile, a heart-wrenching piece on the Huffington Post today shows just how devastating temp work can be for workers (and their families) who have no other options but to accept temp jobs.

The article tells the story of Jeff Lockhart Jr, a Virginia man who got a job at the new Amazon fulfillment warehouse outside of Richmond after a long period of unemployment and died on the job a couple months later.  Although he worked at the Amazon facility, he and most of his colleagues were temp workers hired, supervised, and paid by a temporary staffing company.  The article also explains why the use of temps by large companies is on the rise.

When it comes to low-wage positions, companies like Amazon are now able to precisely calibrate the size of its workforce to meet consumer demand, week by week or even day by day. Amazon, for instance, says it has 90,000 full-time U.S. employees at its fulfillment and sorting centers—but it plans to bring on an estimated 100,000 seasonal workers to help handle this year’s peak. Many of these seasonal hires come through Integrity Staffing Solutions, a Delaware-based temp firm. The company’s website recently listed 22 corporate offices throughout the country, 15 of which were recruiting offices for Amazon fulfillment centers, including the one in Chester.

This system isn’t unique to Amazon—it pervades the U.S. retail supply chain. Read More


NLRBA lot of people are engaged in nonstandard employment today.  Whether you call it contingent work, the gig economy, the “sharing” economy or outsourcing, they are all models in which the workers who perform labor do not have a recognized employer-employee relationship with the business or entity for whom they are performing labor.  These models have become more prevalent over the last thirty years or so.  The use of temporary staffing companies to supply labor, or “temps,” is just one example.  Temps used to be mostly used for white-collar secretarial work, but they have become increasingly common for blue-collar work such as manufacturing jobs, construction and janitorial work.

Our labor and employment laws have not kept up with this changing reality of work.  But in a 3-2 decision issued last week, the National Labor Relations Board has revised its joint employment standard to reflect the reality of these new employment relationships.  In a statement released last week by the NLRB, they explained:

“The revised standard is designed ‘to better effectuate the purposes of the Act in the current economic landscape.’  With more than 2.87 million of the nation’s workers employed through temporary agencies in August 2014, the Board held that its previous joint employer standard has failed to keep pace with changes in the workplace and economic circumstances.”

The decision addressed the question of who were the employers of temporary staffing company workers and concluded that both the staffing company and the staffing company’s client where the workers were placed had sufficient control over the employees to be considered joint employers.  This is a victory for the workers and union involved because it means that the workers have a protected right to bargain with the larger company that controls the terms of their employment and not just with the staffing company.

It is also a victory for workers more broadly.  The growth of contingent employment has reduced the ability of workers to collectively bargain because layers of intermediaries have separated workers from the company that actually has power over their working conditions.  This decision — if it is not overturned when it is inevitably appealed– removes one incentive for employers to use labor intermediaries in order to avoid liability and restores a little bit of power to the workers.


A BuzzFeed News Investigation published today, The New American Slavery: Invited to the U.S. Foreign Workers Find a Nightmare, details many of the abuses experienced by workers in the H-2A and H-2B visa program. One of the H-2 workers profiled by BuzzFeed put it simply:

We live where we work and we can’t leave. We are tied to the company. Our visas are in the company’s name. If the pay and working conditions aren’t as we wish, who can we complain to? We are like modern-day slaves.

This is certainly not the first report to highlight the problems with the two programs that allow U.S. employers to import foreign workers for unskilled labor– in March of this year the Government Accountability Office released a lengthy report about the problems with both visa programs and calling for increased protections for the workers.  But it comes at a time when employers who have built their business models around employing cheap foreign labor are using all of their political power to try to weaken workers protections and oversight of the programs.  A bill pushed by H-2B employers and approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee last month would eliminate long overdue protections which were finally published by USDOL and USDHS in April and which took effect immediately.

The BuzzFeed story is long and its not exactly light Friday afternoon reading, but it’s worth the time.  H-2A and H-2B workers are never going to be able to lobby Congress the same way their employers have been.  But maybe as more reports like this one are published and more people learn about this modern program that the workers describe as slavery, Congress will have to start paying attention to the workers’ voice too.