What’s not to love about chicken? Healthy, delicious—and cheap.
We eat a lot of it—89 pounds per person each year. Chicken is America’s most popular meat. From nuggets to sandwiches to wings, poultry is a $50-billion industry.
But how does all that chicken reach your plate? It’s not easy to turn a live bird into a bucket of buffalo wings. In fact, it takes a lot of work: hanging, cutting, trimming.
We’ll show you what the poultry industry doesn’t want you to see, and tell you exactly what you can do to help workers in their struggle.
The industry squeezes profits and productivity out of these workers. For every dollar spent on McDonald’s McNuggets, only about two cents goes to processing workers. Those workers hang, cut, trim, bread, freeze, and package those chickens—and they get 2 percent of the sale price.
The Poultry Machine
The booming poultry industry puts increasing pressure on workersFacebookTwitter
The poultry plant of today is a long way from a red barn on a dusty road. It’s now an industrial factory on the edge of a highway, lights blazing and chimneys pumping.
These plants operate around the clock to process 8.5 billion chickens a year.
Americans now eat three times more chicken than we did 50 years ago. And that means more workers are needed to hang, cut, pull, and trim millions of birds each day.
From Farms to Factories
As chicken has become big business, all aspects of the industry have been consolidated and enlarged. Thousands of small farms have been absorbed into huge operations.
Work on the line is tough—and the industry doesn't make it any easier for the workers.
In fact, Big Poultry treats workers as replaceable cogs in its industrial machine.
Poultry plants today are large, concrete buildings, surrounded by tall fences and protected by guards.
The air around most plants smells like chicken feces and fried chicken. But inside is even worse.
Working on the line is exhausting, but workers earn little money or respect for their efforts.
The industry treats them as disposable. When workers are injured or disabled, Big Poultry lets them go and brings in new recruits.
There are three major problems that Big Poultry must address:
- Threats to workers' health and safety;
- Exploitation of vulnerable workers;
- Poverty wages in a booming industry.
"The meat and poultry industry still has one of the highest rates of injury and illness of any industry."
Written on the Body
Stepping into a spot on the line puts nearly every part of your body at risk. From head to toe, you're surrounded by sharp tools, harsh chemicals, and constant demands to speed up and keep going.
This is violating the laws of human decency.
Bob Whitmore U.S. Labor Department
Poultry plants are filled with hazards … Production lines where workers stand shoulder-to-shoulder wielding blades for hours with few breaks.
Temperatures hover near freezing to prevent the spread of bacteria. Water drips off machinery, falling onto floors slick with chicken fat.
Charlotte Observer | February 10, 2008
“I walk from one place to another looking to see what I can do, and where they will accept me this way. … I don’t have a permanent job, and this generates many problems because I cannot afford an apartment, I cannot pay my bills, I cannot buy food.”
“Many people have to urinate in their pants because they don’t let us go to the bathroom.”
"While the real value of poultry workers’ wages has dropped to poverty level, compensation for executives has skyrocketed. The CEO of Pilgrim’s earned over $9 million in 2014. In just five hours, he earned the annual salary of a line worker."
You have the power as a consumer to speak out to the giant companies.
Every day, thousands of people head to work in a thriving industry. They process the chicken that lands on our plates in homes, schools, and restaurants. But these people—poultry workers—do not share in the bounty. Instead, they earn poverty-level wages, suffer debilitating injuries, and experience a climate of fear.
It does not have to be this way.
You can speak out to the giant companies: Tell Big Poultry to treat their workers with respect and dignity.