Commentary, News

The good people at OxFam America are out with a new and disturbing report that highlights the poor treatment of poultry workers — many of them here in North Carolina. This is from the introduction to “Lives on the line: The human cost of cheap chicken”:

OxFam report“Chicken is the most popular meat in America , and the poultry industry is booming. Profits are climbing, consumer demand is growing, and executive compensation is increasing rapidly.

But one element remains trapped at the bottom: the workers on the poultry processing line. Poultry workers 1) earn low wages of diminishing value, 2) suffer elevated rates of injury and illness, and 3) often experience a climate of fear in the workplace.

These problems affect the entire industry, but the top four chicken companies control roughly 60 percent of the domestic market: Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s, Perdue, and Sanderson Farms. As industry leaders, these companies can and should implement changes that will improve conditions for poultry workers across the country.

The full report explores industry history and trends in consumption, documents the realities and challenges of life working on the line, and offers concrete recommendations to improve conditions.

The immersive website, Lives on the Line, uses multimedia to convey the experiences of workers inside the poultry plant.”

If you can stomach all the images and stories, you’ll find it hard not to conclude that the industry is, on the whole, anything but an exploitative mess.

As the Farmworker Advocacy Network reports:

“There are approximately 28,000 poultry processing workers in North Carolina, who are predominantly people of color and immigrants with a significant number of women. In order to process the chicken that ends up in our grocery stores and our restaurants, they earn poverty level wages, suffer injuries and illnesses at high rates and endure a climate of fear that makes it difficult for them to speak out against these conditions.”

Click here to read an eight page summary.

Click here to read the entire report.

Click here to check out a multimedia website.


Wake County businessman Doug Burton had had enough of the unfair competition that North Carolina continues to sanction with its failure to pass meaningful laws to crack down on the wrongful treatment on employees as “independent contractors.”

In an excellent op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer, he lays out the increasing dire problem:

“Treating employees as independent contractors when in fact they are regular employees is a fraudulent business practice that has become an epidemic. Some call this “misclassification,” but it is in fact fraud that lets these cheating businesses – many from out of state – off the hook for basic protections, including minimum wage, overtime pay, workers’ compensation, health and safety protections, unemployment insurance, federal and state tax withholding, social security withholdings and matching and more.

This fraud is a growing problem that harms workers, puts a strain on government resources and provides an unfair advantage when these unscrupulous employers compete with law-abiding businesses. I see it every day. Other legitimate business owners see it, too, when they are regularly underpriced for jobs and there is no other explanation for such bids other than cheating. When cheating businesses classify employees as independent contractors to reduce labor costs, legitimate business and workers alike lose out.”

He goes on to explain why current proposals in the General Assembly are a start but fail to go anywhere close to far enough: Read More


From the good folks at the Farmworker Advocacy Network:

FarmworkersFarmworkers’ Day of the Dead celebration calls for new life in labor issues
Remembering the dead, holiday highlights workers’ plight, lax state protections

RALEIGH, NC – Gathering this Saturday to remember fallen field and poultry workers, North Carolina farmworkers and human rights advocates are set to observe the Day of the Dead in light of current labor hardships. Workers and members of the Farmworker Advocacy Network will gather after El Centro restaurant’s Day of the Dead 5K Run/Walk in downtown Raleigh in honor of the holiday, in which friends and families assemble to celebrate lost loved ones. This year advocates will gather around a traditional Day of the Dead altar at El Centro at 11 a.m. to remember farmworkers who died on the job in North Carolina, including nine children over the last decade. Read More


Here’s a story that’s been around for a while but gotten far too little attention. The U.S. Department of Agriculture wants to loosen regulatory oversight over the poultry processing industry — an industry that has long posed grave safety problems for both workers and the consuming public. If you doubt this, refresh your memory by perusing the Charlotte Observer’s award-winning 2008 series on the industry: “The Cruelest Cuts.”

Fortunately, experts and advocates are pushing back. As the New York Times reported earlier this month, the Government Accountability Office has issued a report blasting the USDA proposal (which would also allow faster line speeds for workers to contend with):

“The Agriculture Department’s plan to change its poultry inspection procedures relied on incomplete and antiquated data, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office released on Wednesday.

The new rules will allow workers at plants, rather than agency inspectors, to examine birds on processing lines for blemishes or feces. Read More


Workers Memorial Day honors victims of workplace accidents

WHAT: Workers Memorial Day

WHERE: North Carolina Department of Labor, 4 W. Edenton Street, Raleigh

WHEN: Friday, April 26, 12:00 p.m.

Workplace fatalities are all too common in North Carolina. Yet the lives of these men and women, and the facts of their deaths, are too quickly forgotten. Join us for Workers Memorial Day on Friday, April 26, for a ceremony in remembrance of the lives of all 68 workers who died on the job in 2012.

The event will be held at noon at the North Carolina Department of Labor at 4 W. Edenton Street in Downtown Raleigh. Bring one or more pairs of shoes — they will line the street curb and symbolize our loss.

Workers Memorial Day is sponsored by Triangle Jobs With Justice, National Committee for Occupational Health and Safety, Farmworker Advocacy Network, North Carolina Justice Center, Western North Carolina Workers Center, Farm Labor Organizing Committee, and Student Action with Farmworkers.

Be there if you can!