NOTE: We are aware that meat processing plants are usually the first place refugees (newcomers vetted by our federal government who will live here as permanent citizens) can obtain employment when they first arrive in this country. They must have gainful employment very soon after arriving and working at a place like Tyson Foods serves a real need for them. However, they will leave for better pay and safer working conditions as soon as they can find an alternative. Catholic Charities in our archdiocese runs a large refugee resettlement program.
Nevertheless, the recent announcement that Tyson Foods wants to build a chicken processing plant in Tonganoxie is cause for concern. The local papers have been giving the pros and cons. As concerned citizens of Kansas our community, Mount St Scholastica in Atchison does not support this construction.
The Catholic Church has numerous documents that call for greater care of the environment including air, land, and water, not exploitation of creation as that carried on by Tyson Foods. The environment cannot be safeguarded by the vertical integration market forces that Tyson Foods depends on.
The National Catholic Rural Life Conference has called for a moratorium and the replacement of factory farms like those of Tyson Foods by a sustainable agricultural system.
Safety for poultry industry is among the most dangerous in the U.S. Too often there are no machine safety guards, adequate training or mandatory protective equipment. The speed of the moving line of chickens is too fast for the workers to keep up in a safe manner.
Check out the National Employment Law Report (2017). It is OSHA data from 29 states. The other states keep their own data. In that report, the poultry industry ranks among the most dangerous in the U.S.
Poultry workers suffered a great number of serious injuries more than much of the construction industry, the auto industry, the steel industry, sawmills, and many other high-risk industries.
Further, OSHA followed up with inspections in response to 86 of these incidents, finding a total of 750 violations in the plants, of which 84 were willful or repeat violations that carry the highest fines. In just 2016 alone, OSHA fined Tyson Foods more than $700,000 for safety and health violations. The fines are paid but the violations are not corrected and the employees continue to suffer.
Workers at Tyson Foods and Pilgrim’s Pride suffered amputations of fingers and hands when the companies failed to provide machine safety guards, adequate training, or mandatory protective equipment. Workers were sent to the hospital for fractured hips from slippery floors and burns from chemical leaks.
OSHA has fined poultry plants for recordkeeping violations, most recently in January with a citation to Tyson Foods. Further, recent agency inspections found that onsite medical units in poultry plants are actually set up to be obstacles to accurate reporting.
Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the rate of occupational illnesses in poultry plants is of particular concern, with rates remaining at more than six times the average for all U.S. industries.
Workers are sometimes denied their legal right to use the bathroom.
Employee turnover rates are between 50 to 100 percent. Poultry processing workers make thousands of forceful cuts a day using knives and scissors in cold and damp conditions, with acidic chemicals often being sprayed over the carcasses, and incidentally over the workers themselves, as the meat moves down the line. The speed of work in poultry plants causes far too many workplace injuries.
Sanitation work is one of the most hazardous occupations in the poultry industry. The GAO concluded that OSHA was unaware of the extent of the injuries facing workers who clean poultry and meat plants, because of the way workers’ injuries are classified.
Tyson will have no competition in eastern Kansas. They will control the entire process through vertical integration. They are well known for making high profits. Study of the incomes in the counties where they locate the report that the local people actually have lower incomes than those in other counties of their state. Tyson allows no unions and uses it lobbying power in Congress to ensure they are pretty much unregulated. Salaries for their own workers are very low but their profits are very high.
NEWS UPDATE—Sept. 18: Leavenworth County commissioners revoke bond support for proposed Tyson chicken plant near Tonganoxie. It appears that Tyson is now looking for another location in Kansas instead of Tonganoxie.