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Report: Wage Violations, Poor Working Conditions at Arkansas Poultry Plants

February 5, 2016

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Report: Wage Violations, Poor Working Conditions at Arkansas Poultry Plants

Arkansas poultry workers routinely face wage and hour violations, poor safety conditions, racial and ethnic discrimination, and gender-based harassment at their jobs, according to Wages and Working Conditions in Arkansas Poultry Plants, a new report from UUSC partner the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center (NWAWJC), produced with support from UUSC.

Interviews with 500 workers in Arkansas’s poultry plants paint a picture of a job that is often difficult, dirty, and dangerous. Working conditions frequently result in illness and injury for workers and create an environment in which the risk of meat contamination is high.

Read a summary of the findings and recommendations below. You can also check out a PDF of the full report or read it on Medium.

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Call on Tyson to treat workers better: Tyson is the world’s largest chicken producer and could shift the industry toward treating workers better by reducing line speeds, allowing workers more breaks, and implementing other policies that put workers’ health and safety first. You can also join our activism on Facebook and Twitter:

Summary of Findings

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Disappearing wages

With an approximate wage of $13.84 per hour ($28,792 per year), workers in Arkansas poultry processing plants often do not earn enough to support their families. Wage and hour violations compound the problem of low pay: 38% of workers who are paid via payroll card reported having money “disappear.” In 74% of those cases, the money was never recovered.

Illness and injury

Poultry workers in Arkansas reported having limited access to health benefits such as earned sick leave and affordable comprehensive health insurance, and many reported being punished or fired for being sick or injured on the job. A stunning 91% of surveyed workers said they have no earned sick leave, and almost two-thirds reported working while sick. Workers also reported that unhygienic environments combined with fast line speeds and a lack of proper training frequently resulted in illness, injury, and contamination.

Widespread discrimination

More than half of surveyed workers said they experienced discrimination, a very troubling statistic for a workforce made up mostly of first- and second-generation immigrants as well as minority workers from the United States. Women, in particular, cited gender discrimination in the way bathroom breaks are withheld by male supervisors. Some had even urinated on themselves because they were not granted breaks when needed.

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Recommendations

  • Policymakers should step up their enforcement of wage and hour laws, including strengthening penalties for violations and bolstering enforcement resources.
  • Line speeds should be regulated and slowed to reduce injury and contamination.
  • Paid sick leave should be guaranteed for all workers.
  • Policymakers and companies should work to reduce discrimination and harassment in the workplace, including enforcing antidiscrimination laws and creating strategies to ensure equitable mobility for workers of color and foreign-born workers.
  • Companies and policymakers should ensure equitable access to bathroom breaks to protect workers’ health and dignity.
  • Workers should be encouraged to organize collectively to pursue better conditions.

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