In addition to dangerous working conditions, long hours and unlivable wages, America’s roughly quarter of a million poultry workers are being denied bathroom breaks. This has led some of them to resort to wearing adult diapers while others choose to limit hydration according to a recent report by Oxfam America. Oxfam referenced an investigation by the Western North Carolina Workers’ Center, a worker’s advocacy group, regarding their year-long review of conditions at the Case Farms plant in Morgantown, North Carolina. Their report showed that bathroom breaks were the biggest concern for the plant’s approximately 800 employees who are paid only $9 to $10 per hour.
Hunter Ogletree, an organizer with the worker’s advocacy group, believes that Case Farms feels they can get away with a lot of these injustices because they are small and won’t be held accountable like a larger company such as Tyson. He, along with Oxfam, feel this is a violation of the workers’ basic human rights.
It’s just basic human dignity, the right to be able to use the bathroom when you need to, as opposed to having to hold it for two hours until the next break, or worse, having to wear diapers or urinating or defecating on yourself,” Ogletree told CBS Money Watch.
Furthermore, Ogletree noted that this denial of bathroom breaks is extra burdensome in an industry where repetitive motion can cause workers injuries including wrist pain and much worse. He cited that he had seen women who couldn’t hold babies because their hands were “so deformed from processing a chicken every two seconds…for eight to 10 hours a day.”
When they can’t move their hands anymore, they find a way to dispose of the workers. It’s sort of like the chicken, they are brought in and spit out,” added Ogletree.
Case Farms issued a statement saying it believed the described “difficulties” to be “extremely rare and that U.S. poultry companies work hard to prevent them.”
This statement, however, appears to be far from true. While bathroom breaks create a logistical problem for poultry plants because of the need to stop production, a well-staffed plant has floaters ready to step in. Yet upon further investigation, it seems only a handful of poultry workers state that their bathroom needs are respected. Those who felt respected were mostly unionized.
By contrast, one survey of 266 workers conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama found that about 80 percent of them were not allowed to take bathroom breaks when necessary. A survey in Minnesota found 86 percent of workers reported that they get fewer than two bathroom breaks per week. At a Tyson plant in Arkansas, one worker reported a pregnant co-worker walking out in tears because the line lead wouldn’t let her go to the bathroom. At a plant in Mississippi, a Sanderson employee noted that women have to tell male supervisors why they have to go to the bathroom and only have a few minutes to return. Others have their jobs threatened and are told to go to the bathroom and then report directly to HR.
As a result of these breaches of human and civil rights and of labor and employment laws, the U.S. branch of Oxfam has called on the four major poultry companies; Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue Farms, Tyson Foods and Sanderson Farms, to improve their worker’s conditions. Such violations, both physical and psychological, are reminiscent of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and are exactly what unions and the labor movement have fought so hard to prevent.
Featured image via video screen capture
Athena is passionate about human and civil rights and social justice. She is an attorney and an activist by background and in the past has been an adjunct instructor as well as a writer.