What Life in a Turkey Plant Is Like Before Thanksgiving

Not very pleasant, per Slate exposé
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 23, 2016 4:28 PM CST
What Life in a Turkey Plant Is Like Before Thanksgiving
A truckload of live turkeys arrives at the Cargill turkey processing plant in Springdale, Ark., on Aug. 4, 2011.   (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)

No one's more thankful for Thanksgiving than the workers who toil away in turkey plants in the days before, where it can be weeks before time off is earned, bathroom breaks are frowned upon, and employees' "deboning" quota can surpass 11,000 turkeys per shift, per an exposé on Slate, co-reported with the Nation Institute. The deep dive starts with the story of Lisandro Vega, an ex-worker in an Arkansas Butterball plant, and through him and others, tidbits are noted about the "relentless" pace and how workers in the state—Cargill and Tyson Foods also have an Arkansas presence—suffer constant injuries. Workers ice their hands, for example, or even resort to carpal tunnel surgery after their hands harden from "clawlike" grips on deboning knives or from pushing around heavy turkey racks. The beginning of the end for Vega: when he saw a notice at his Huntsville plant in which Butterball bragged about how workers in that facility had put in more than 8 million hours without a "lost-time injury."

Not buying that: the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center, an advocacy group pushing for better working conditions and pay for the 28,000 workers in Arkansas' poultry industry. The NAWJC estimates 60% of Arkansas poultry workers have suffered an illness or injury at work. "If you get hurt, they fire you. If you complain, they fire you," the group's organizing director says. Slate also explores how injuries at the plants are underreported to the feds and how insurance companies give workers a hard time on their claims. Meanwhile, a joint statement from the National Turkey Federation, the National Chicken Council, and the US Poultry and Egg Association earlier this year stated: "Perhaps more than any other industry, the poultry industry has focused its energies on the prevention of workplace injuries." As for Vega, he eventually quit because a back injury he'd suffered at work became too painful. Entire article here. (Denial of bathroom breaks is a serious industry issue.)

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