Meatpacking and poultry workers risk injury, decry faster processing

Meatpacking and poultry processing are staples of the Minnesota economy, particularly for a number of smaller Minnesota communities. While the meatpacking industry does provide jobs, the work can be difficult and dangerous.

Human Rights Watch described meatpacking as "the most dangerous factory job in America." The U.S. Department of Labor reported that almost one out of every three slaughterhouse workers is injured or suffers from an illness every year. The annual rate of injury and illness for most other factory jobs is around one in 10.

Meatpacking workers often suffer from repetitive stress injuries, slip-and-fall injuries, work-related back pain and even dismemberment in machinery. Workers do have after-the-fact remedies for an occupational illness or injury in the form of a workers' compensation claim. But, prevention is always better, and as a regulatory proposal is being considered that could increase production speeds at certain kinds of meat processing facilities, a number of workers appeared before an international rights body to raise their concerns about safety.

New regulation could mean 25 percent faster poultry processing lines

On March 25, a number of workers representing the American meatpacking and poultry industries appeared in Washington to testify before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The workers were particularly concerned about a new proposal from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that would raise the maximum processing speeds in poultry plants from 140 birds per minute to 175 birds per minute, an increase of 25 percent.

The workers cited studies conducted over the past two years that found rates of carpal tunnel syndrome among workers in various meatpacking and poultry processing roles ranged anywhere from 40 to 80 percent. In addition to increasing the need for rapid, repetitive movements that can lead to injury over time, quicker production speeds could also increase the potential for accidental injury in an environment where workers are stressed and overworked.

Perhaps even more troubling than their concerns with increased production speeds was workers' testimony as to employers' tendencies to discourage reporting of injuries and to retaliate against employees who do make a report. A formal report should be filed for each and every workplace injury in a meatpacking plant, and there are strict laws that absolutely prohibit employers from firing, demoting or otherwise taking negative employment action against a worker for reporting an occupational injury or illness.

Reporting an injury or illness could get you benefits and you cannot be retaliated against

Even if regulations are not updated to allow for quicker processing speeds, conditions in the meatpacking and poultry processing industries already present a high degree of danger. If you have been injured or have developed an occupational illness, it is important to contact a workers' compensation lawyer. Workers' compensation benefits include payments for medical care and partial wage replacement while you are unable to work due to an occupational injury or illness.

You may think that your employer will retaliate against you for getting a lawyer involved, but it is actually quite the opposite: as mentioned above, you are absolutely protected against retaliation for reporting a work injury or illness, and employers know that a lawyer will stand up for your rights. Talk to a lawyer today to learn more about your rights and to ensure you receive the full workers' compensation benefits to which you are entitled.