Friday, May 09, 2008

poultry and workers

I may have had my last chicken meal for a long time. Today I am taking a tour of a poultry processing plant in Harrisonburg. I get to see it from the manager's perspective- the whole day is sponsored by the poultry group.

When I interned for the Virginia Justice Center at the Legal Aid Justice Center in the nineties (so long ago), we went to where the workers lived. The workers live in trailer parks outside of town- everything about the place reeks of poverty and third world country. The mothers and fathers worked separate shifts to take care of the children. No toys, no books, the insects- and an atmosphere of squalor. Does that make sense? I suppose I am using my sensabilities to describe it- I mean no disrespect- it was just one of those places, like most places I went those two summers- where you wore your oldest, sturdiest shoe and lifted up your pant legs to walk around, looking at the ground the whole time. All of those places- the people we met were hard working, loyal, and shy. A lot of times the workers would cry as they told us how they got here or what they have had to endure with their families, employers or the distance between here and home.

These worker's salaries deducted the time the workers had to go to the bathroom, or worse the boss wouldnt let them go to the bathroom. There was also an issue of who was to pay for their uniform. The American workers we suspected were not exploited this way.

All of these issues are actionable, but to the workers legal action was worse than not being able to go to the bathroom or paying for their uniforms. They were very loyal, and obviously appreciated the work.

While I am interested in the processing of poultry and how it works; my main concern is the workers and if what they have to go through is worth the couple cents off the cost of chicken.

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