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  1. #1
    Senior Member loservillelabor's Avatar
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    Apr 2006
    Loserville KY

    Processing plants' dangers don't scare off migrants ... 107069.htm

    Posted on Mon, Nov. 27, 2006
    Processing plants' dangers don't scare off migrants
    By Sudeep Reddy

    The Dallas Morning News


    WASHINGTON - The opportunities lie in the punishing nature of the work, hacking at animal parts in rapid succession as carcasses fly by.

    Each year, thousands of illegal immigrants gravitate toward meatpacking plants in places like Cactus, Texas, and elsewhere, in search of steady-paying jobs that many native workers avoid.

    Their attraction to one of the most dangerous factory jobs in the nation, experts say, has created an environment that's increasingly difficult to monitor, complicating efforts to improve conditions across the industry.

    About one in 10 workers is injured each year - some say it's closer to one in five - from sharp tools colliding with limbs or the painful stress of repeating the same motions with hooks and knives during a daylong shift.

    "The price that's being paid in injury, in illness, is a price that most native-born workers are not willing to take, even at a good wage," says Lance Compa, a Cornell University expert in labor law and the meatpacking industry.

    Worker advocates say the result is depressed wages and continued abuses:

    _Wages in 1960 that were today's equivalent of $20 or more - near those of the auto and steel industries - have dropped to $8 to $12 an hour in many plants, experts say.

    _Regulations for tallying injuries have loosened since President Bush took office. Injury counts have declined, as a result. But critics say that masks the full extent of problems inside the plants.

    _Illegal workers often accept harsh conditions in exchange for a chance to stay in the U.S. Many won't report injuries out of fear that their immigration status could be discovered.

    Workers want to "stay underground, to not make any waves, do their job, get their pay and go home," said Jackie Nowell, director of occupational safety and health at the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

    The industry defends its record as one that's improved through cooperation with unions and voluntary measures. The American Meat Institute, a trade group, says meatpacking wages are often higher than the pay for workers in some key fields.

    The work inside packing houses has drawn government scrutiny off and on for a century. Attention largely centered on food safety rather than the working conditions of the people who put the meat on Americans' dinner tables.

    Immigrants have been a key source of meatpacking labor since the industry's inception, drawn by a job that requires little or no experience.

    The harsh conditions inside plants, chronicled in 1906 by Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle," brought greater federal oversight and a work environment that drew more native workers. Wages rose for decades.

    But the 1960s and 1970s brought a restructuring of the sector that reshaped the profile of the workforce.

    Led by industry giant IBP (now Tyson), packing plants that had been unionized left big cities - a move to cut the cost of transporting cattle from rural areas. Unions lost influence, and injury rates climbed. Wages tumbled as the industry consolidated.

    Today, four companies - Tyson, Cargill, Smithfield and Swift - control 80 percent of beef processing.

    At the Swift & Co. meatpacking plant in Cactus, Texas, officials say they do all they can to legally verify the authenticity of their employees' documents. A spokesman said illegal workers are found perhaps a dozen times a year, if that, and noted that the company takes part voluntarily in a federal program designed to spot fraudulent use of Social Security numbers.

    But Cactus city officials say nearly 75 percent of the town's population is illegal and undocumented.

    Immigrant workers make up as much as 80 percent of the nonmanagement workforce at some plants in Texas, Kansas and other top meatpacking states, said Donald Stull, an anthropology professor at the University of Kansas and author of "Slaughterhouse Blues." They're less likely to organize and don't necessarily know their rights - an attractive combination for the industry, Stull said.

    The American Meat Institute says hourly workers earn $12.03 an hour on average, or $25,000 a year, for jobs in rural areas with a low cost of living. In contrast, preschool teachers in Kansas, the largest beef state, earned $24,550 and paramedics made $21,590.

    The industry also maintains that total "recordable" injuries have declined 70 percent since 1990, a figure that critics say doesn't account for the full extent of problems inside plants.

    The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which oversees worker safety at U.S. companies, does not collect injury figures for every plant.

    Although manufacturing facilities must log worker injuries at the plants, they are only required to do so if the injuries can be proved to have occurred onsite.

    OSHA inspectors can request the records during inspections; otherwise the log sheets aren't collected. The agency inspects about 75 of the more than 5,000 meatpacking plants each year.

    "It's been a long time since OSHA's been here," said one longtime employee at the Cactus plant who spoke only on condition of anonymity. "When OSHA is here, everything moves nice and slow."

    OSHA's last inspection report for the Swift plant was in the summer of 2005.

    Unions and labor experts say legal battles in the 1980s and 1990s brought some reforms for workers - including more-defined rules for ergonomic standards inside manufacturing facilities, a move that was expected to ease the strain.

    The Clinton administration implemented a new ergonomics standard in January 2001.

    But the GOP-led Congress and the Bush administration halted it in favor of voluntary industry measures. Regulatory changes a year later replaced the strict rules with general principles in support of worker safety.

    At the Cactus plant, inspectors said employees weren't familiar with information about health hazards on the site.

    In the fall of 2003, for instance, workers in the "Slaughter and Blood Pit Area where the stun and stick operation takes place" complained about chlorine mists, OSHA reported.

    The calcium hypochlorite solution led to bloody noses, vomiting, headaches and irritation to their eyes, nose and throat, the report said.

    Employee interviews found that Swift "had not provided training" on the hazards from the solution, OSHA said.

    Twenty-six former employees of the Swift plant are suing the company for wrongful termination, saying they were let go as a result of filing workers compensation claims after being injured on the job. The workers list injuries ranging from slipping on greasy floors to falling off ladders to being struck by a forklift.

    Swift has denied the charges in the suit, which was filed in a Dallas County court.

    Many workers simply accept the risks even in dangerous situations, critics say.

    Some immigrant workers, whether legal or illegal, hesitate to file complaints. Workers often don't know their rights or fear getting tied up with immigration authorities.

    "We don't have a choice but to put up with it. Or let them fire us. We have too many years invested," said the longtime worker.

    Rich Fairfax, OSHA's director of enforcement, said the agency fines plants that try to hide the number of injuries.

    "We don't care about immigration status," Fairfax said. "We're there to deal with workplace health and safety and protection of the workers regardless of whether they're U.S. citizens."

    OSHA figures show a decline in meatpacking injuries and illnesses in 2002, the first year of new record-keeping that omitted a special category for repetitive-motion injuries.

    The percentage of workers injured dropped to less than 12 percent, from 20 percent a year earlier.

    "The reporting is really going underground," said Nowell of the union. "This is the biggest category of injury that's happening across the board in this country, and we're not recording it as such."

    Meatpacking workers' unions and other experts say many of the injuries can be avoided by reducing the speed of lines carrying carcasses in a plant. Some workers must process hundreds of animals an hour during a busy shift.

    This spring, workers at the Cactus plant said line speeds were increased. Even before then, the longtime worker said, the job was tough enough.

    "They're going to make the chain longer and raise it. ... You can hear the people screaming because they're exhausted. On Friday, you could hear them screaming because it was 2:37 (p.m.) and the meat wouldn't stop coming. ... The people were screaming: Enough! Are you going to pay us (for the extra time)? Regularly, they will pay."

    Agencies that regulate plants point to each other to deal with line speeds.

    Food safety inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture are at plants to ensure that meat is safe for consumption. But the department says that worker safety is the responsibility of OSHA regulators and plant management.

    And OSHA does not regulate line speed, leaving that to food inspectors. The agency says it monitors for ergonomic hazards and requires plants to make changes to address those problems.

    A Swift spokesman, Sean McHugh, said all food processors want to raise their output, but "food safety for us goes hand in hand with employee safety."

    The spring increase in line speed at the Cactus plant resulted in "no appreciable change in injury rates or lost workday rates," he said.

    The company declined to disclose its line speed for competitive reasons.

    Swift's overall injury rate has been cut in half over the last five years and is comparable to the overall average for all manufacturers, McHugh said.

    OSHA says its oversight has contributed to a better work environment, covering a broader range of safety concerns.

    Fairfax, the OSHA enforcement director, acknowledges that meatpacking is a dangerous industry but says it's "a lot safer than it used to be 10 or 15 years ago."

    Cooperation with industry leaders who want lower workers' compensation costs and insurance rates has made a difference, he said.

    He said that most employers are recording injuries and illnesses accurately and that OSHA's industry-specific targeting system would spot violators.

    OSHA tries to take a big-picture view of injuries at a plant and allow an employer to make changes, rather than focusing specifically on an issue such as line speed, he said.

    Industry critics say the safety of workers needs as much attention as food safety. And pressure from consumers, much like a century ago, is the only way to force the industry and regulators to make faster improvements, said Stull, the University of Kansas anthropology professor.

    "There isn't the public outcry," he said. "The general public, as long as their food is cheap, as long as it's safe, as long as the workers aren't really that much like them, they can look the other way."



    Federal workplace inspectors conducted five reviews in recent years of the Swift & Co. packing plant in Cactus. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said it could not locate two of the case files. In the others:

    JULY 2004

    Complaint: An employee complained that lines were moving too fast, leading to sides of beef striking workers.

    Finding: Inspectors concluded that the injuries were a result of the worker's actions, likely from making a wrong cut that caused the quarter of beef to fall off a hook and strike his foot.

    OCTOBER 2003

    Complaint: Workers complained of excessive chlorine mists causing headaches, bloody noses, vomiting, headaches and irritation to their eyes, nose and throat.

    Finding: An inspection found that employees were not trained regarding the hazards of a calcium hypochlorite solution used to wash cattle hides in the slaughter and blood pit area of the plant. Inspectors determined that Swift had not provided training on the hazards associated with the solution. The company had been cited for a similar violation in October 2002, with a $1,125 fine. It received a $12,500 penalty for this offense, later reduced to $7,500.

    APRIL 2003

    Complaint: Numerous physical hazards led to a visit by an OSHA inspector.

    Among the problems:

    _The lack of an exit in a cattle pen's fencing

    _No employee access to potable water and toilets

    _And a missing guard on an overhead conveyor system

    Finding: Citation proposed but not issued.

    SOURCE: Occupational Safety and Health Administration; Dallas Morning News research


    2006, The Dallas Morning News.

    Visit The Dallas Morning News on the World Wide Web at

    Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

    Dallas Morning News correspondent Arnold Hamilton, and Al Dia correspondent Deborah Turner contributed to this report.
    Unemployment is not working. Deport illegal alien workers now! Join our efforts to Secure America's Borders and End Illegal Immigration by Joining ALIPAC's E-Mail Alerts network (CLICK HERE)

  2. #2
    Senior Member gofer's Avatar
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    Jan 2006
    But Cactus city officials say nearly 75 percent of the town's population is illegal and undocumented.
    The Mayor of Cactus is a former illegal alien who is cashing in big time.....he "finds" Swift employees. He lives in a 2-story villa surrounded by slums. He has established his own little corrupt "Mexican" barrio!

  3. #3
    Senior Member magyart's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Columbus, OH
    Quote Originally Posted by gofer
    But Cactus city officials say nearly 75 percent of the town's population is illegal and undocumented.
    The Mayor of Cactus is a former illegal alien who is cashing in big time.....he "finds" Swift employees. He lives in a 2-story villa surrounded by slums. He has established his own little corrupt "Mexican" barrio!
    The meat packing industry may be where American really don't want to work. Of course it is harder to recruit and retain workers in an industry where wages have declined 50%.

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