Giving Thanks for Poultry Workers Thinkstock

Giving Thanks for Poultry Workers

Advocacy groups remind us to consider the 'invisible workforce' behind our Thanksgiving meals.

This Thanksgiving, more than 46 million turkeys will be placed on dinner tables across the U.S.

However, those people working behind the scenes at poultry factories to prepare those turkeys often go unnoticed.

Jessica Martinez, acting executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, asked for a “call for dignity and respect for those who put food on our tables” during a press conference on poultry industry workers.

“Workers in America’s turkey processing plants bring food to millions of families on Thanksgiving, but their own families must deal with the reality of low wages, unsafe working conditions and workplace intimidation,” she said.

Take Omar Hassan for example.

Hassan, a Somali immigrant, was fired from his job at a turkey processing plant after suffering an on-the-job injury.

“We are treated as if we are disposable. All of us should be valued for our work,” said Hassan.

Poultry workers suffer a number of workplace injuries, including cumulative trauma disorders in hands and wrists; and hand and wrist pain, swelling, numbness and the inability to close hands.

Yet, because the industry is known for hiring immigrant workers and other vulnerable populations, workers often don’t receive the medical care they need, or have the opportunity to speak up when workplace conditions are unjust.

The industry has nearly a 100 percent turnover, said Sarah Rich, a staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

And that’s because these workers are not seen, said Minor Sinclair, director of Oxfam America’s U.S. program.

“They’re almost an invisible workforce,” Sinclair said.

While the public has created change in the conditions for the birds – cage-free, etc. – the same has not been done for the workers in the industry, Sinclair said.

There are some glimmers of hope though. Tyson Foods in October announced plans to increase wages of its production workers at most of its plants. However, the wage increase will only give most new workers $10 per hour, up from $8-9 per hour.

And OSHA has a new regional emphasis to look into unsafe conditions in the poultry processing industry.

But a lot remains to be done, Sinclair said.That’s why advocacy groups in the industry sent letters to the CEOs of the largest poultry companies – Perdue Farms, Sanderson Farms and Pilgrim’s Pride – to improve conditions for workers.

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