MEDIA ADVISORY

New Report Reveals Arkansas Poultry Workers Suffering Rights Abuses, Wage Theft, Discrimination

Press conference will introduce findings by researchers, advocate comments and poultry worker testimony

Full press release and quotes from press conference presenters included below this advisory.

SPRINGDALE, Ark./BOSTON, CAMBRIDGE, Mass.  — Thursday February 04, 2016 — A troubling new report on wage and working conditions in Northwest Arkansas poultry plants will be released during a press conference in Springdale, Ark., Friday February 5. The report, produced by the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center (NWAWJC), reveals a range of what social and economic justice advocates are describing as discrimination, wage suppression and severe worker rights abuses.

Highlights from the report “Wages and Working Conditions in Northwest Arkansas Poultry Plants” range from the vast majority of workers having no paid sick leave and working while ill, to being deprived of needed bathroom breaks forcing employee incontinence on the processing line, and nearly two-thirds of all workers experiencing some form of payroll theft, such as pay “disappearing” on their debit-like payroll cards.

The report is drawn from a survey of more than 500 poultry workers in Northwest Arkansas, nexus of the state’s poultry processing industry. Arkansas ranks second of all U.S. states in broiler production, employing 28,000 workers. 

WHAT AND WHO

A press conference announcing the release of the new investigative report “Wages and Working conditions in Northwest Arkansas Poultry Plants.”

Report produced by the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center in collaboration with human rights agencies the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and Oxfam America.

The press conference is hosted by the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center.

WHEN AND WHERE

Friday February 5, 2016
3:00 p.m. local time
Springdale Public Library
Springdale, Ark.

Press Conference Agenda

3:00 p.m.                      
Welcome and introduction         
Walter Hinojosa, President, Board of Directors, Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center

3:05–3:20 p.m.  
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
Poultry report summary              
Amber Moulton, Researcher, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

3:20–3:30 p.m.  
Oxfam America
Report on related Tyson Foods shareholder resolutions
Minor Sinclair, Director of the U.S. Regional Office of Oxfam America

3:35–3:45 p.m.  
Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center
Poultry worker testimonial

3:45–3:55 p.m.  
Social justice message
Dr. Clint Schnekloth, Pastor, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Fayetteville

4:00–4:20 p.m.  
Media Questions
For further information about the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center, contact:
Magaly Licolli, Executive Director, 479-750-8015.

“Wages and Working conditions in Northwest Arkansas Poultry Plants” was produced through research and writing support by Nina Ebner, Jessica Halpern-Finnerty, and Saru Jayaraman of the Food Labor Research Center, University of California, Berkeley; Miya Cain and Amber Moulton of Unitarian Universalist Service Committee; and Chris Benner of the University of California, Santa Cruz.

NWAWJC is an interfaith, nonprofit, membership organization that assists with employment issues including wage theft, worker exploitation and protecting workers’ rights. The majority of its members are low-wage workers who are fighting for justice and dignity in the workplace. NWAWJC has created a Wage Theft Committee of labor, community, attorneys and religious organizations, as well as workers who have been victims of wage theft. NWAWJC is affiliated with Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ), a national network of workers’ centers guided by religious values as they educate, organize and mobilize to improve the lives of workers.

PRESS RELEASE

New Arkansas Poultry Industry Report: Bad Grades on Worker Protections Across the Board

SPRINGDALE, Arkansas/CAMBRIDGE/BOSTON, Mass. — Thursday, February 4, 2016 — A new report on poultry workers in Northwest Arkansas reveals new data on stark working conditions, discrimination and wage discrepancies in processing plants of the state’s leading region for poultry production.

The report “Wage and Working Conditions in Arkansas Poultry Plants,” produced by the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center (NWAWJC), will be released during a press conference Friday, February 5, 3:00 p.m. until 4:20 p.m., at the Springdale Public Library, Springdale, Ark.

The NWAWJC study was produced in collaboration with and support by Cambridge- and Boston-based human rights agencies the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) and Oxfam America and was drawn from an exhaustive survey of some 500 poultry workers in the region conducted by NWAWJC.

The report’s release and press conference on Friday is intended to generate improved, just, consistent processing industry worker policies. Planners hope to reinforce the messages of an advocates’ rally earlier that day on behalf of the state’s poultry workers. The activists’ rally is scheduled just prior to the Tyson Foods annual shareholders meeting in Springdale.

Advance comments from press conference presenters:

  • “Through this study, we discovered what we already knew. Industry-wide, the poultry industry is an unsafe, unhealthy place to work. The workers get taken advantage of and, often, cheated out of their wages. We hope this report focuses eyes on the poultry industry.”  —Walter Hinojosa, President, Board of Directors, Northwest Arkansas Workers Justice Center
  • “This report is one of the most detailed and comprehensive looks at life inside poultry plants in recent years. It reveals serious problems, from unpaid wages to gender and racial discrimination and health and hygiene lapses that harm both workers and consumers. This hard evidence should spur policymakers and poultry companies to action to protect the rights and dignity of the people who put chicken, Americans’ favorite meat, on our tables.” —Amber Moulton, Researcher, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
  • “While working in a poultry plant is by nature arduous and unpleasant, it doesn’t have to be dangerous and degrading. Poultry companies could be doing much more to make conditions safe and bearable and to give workers a voice on the job. This new survey from NWAWJC offers valuable insights into the realities of life inside poultry plants and bolsters the findings of Oxfam’s earlier report, Lives on the Line, where we call on companies to step up and protect their workers.” —Minor Sinclair, Director of the U.S. Regional Office of Oxfam America

Survey highlights: work climate of sickness, fear, wage and hour violations

Among findings from the survey, 91 percent of surveyed workers handling the nation’s poultry in Arkansas processing plants have no paid sick leave, and nearly two-thirds reported working while ill, suggesting a correlation between worker and consumer health and safety.

Most workers surveyed stressed fear of retribution by employers for absences due to illness and report being punished or fired for being sick or injured on the job. Yet the state’s poultry workers report having limited access to health benefits such as earned sick leave and affordable comprehensive health insurance.

Northwest Arkansas, the locus of the state’s poultry production, has a much larger population of people who are foreign-born, Hispanic or Latino, Asian or Pacific Islander than Arkansas as a whole. Of workers surveyed for the report, 71 percent of black workers and 63 percent of Latino workers reported high rates of being harassed by a supervisor or lead.

Arkansas poultry workers often don’t earn enough to support their families. On top of low pay, workers in the state’s northwest processing plants report experiencing wage and hour violations.

Twenty-one percent of foreign-born workers reported being paid with debit card-like payroll cards. Although the cards have advantages, fees and payments can be difficult to track. Thirty-eight percent of those paid via payroll card reported having money “disappear,” such as time on the job not being credited. In 74 percent of those cases, the money was never recovered.

Of those surveyed, women workers in particular cited gender discrimination by male supervisors in the way bathroom breaks are withheld. Some of the women have urinated on themselves because they were not granted breaks when needed.

Report recommendations call for wage and hour law enforcement, production line safety, paid sick leave

The Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center, UUSC, Oxfam America and state advocates from social justice and faith communities are pressing for major industry wide improvements, including the following:

  • Policymakers increase enforcement of wage and hour laws, including increasing penalties for violations and increased enforcement resources.
  • Production plant line speeds be regulated and reduced, to reduce injury and contamination.
  • Paid sick leave be guaranteed for all workers.
  • Policymakers and companies work to reduce workplace discrimination and harassment, enforce antidiscrimination laws, and create strategies that ensure equitable mobility for workers of color and foreign-born workers.
  • Companies and policymakers ensure equitable access to bathroom breaks to protect worker health and dignity.
  • Workers be encouraged to organize collectively, to work for better conditions.

For more information about the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center, contact: Executive Director Magaly Licolli, 479-750-8015.

The NWAWJC is an interfaith, nonprofit, membership organization that assists with employment issues, including wage theft, worker exploitation and protecting workers’ rights. The majority of its members are low-wage workers who are standing up for justice and dignity in the workplace. NWAWJC is affiliated with Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ), a national network of workers’ centers guided by religious values as they educate, organize and mobilize to improve the lives of workers.