Working conditions in a 800 person poultry plant in Iowa

In May The Forward carried a story, “In Iowa Meat Plant, Kosher ‘Jungle’ Breeds Fear, Injury, Short Pay”. It is about work for 800 workers starting at $6.25 an hour in one of the largest kosher chicken processing plants in the country. The plant is located in Postville, a 2,500 population town in the rural northeastern part of the state. Writes the author Nathaniel Popper: “The company’s business model has been economically successful. AgriProcessors is the only kosher slaughterhouse in America producing both beef and poultry. While AgriProcessors has been expanding steadily, its closest competitor in the poultry industry, Empire Kosher, recently fired employees and cut back operations. Union leaders at Empire Kosher said that the cutbacks were necessary because Empire pays its lowest-ranking unionized employees close to $3 more an hour from the outset than AgriProcessors’ lowest employees, and provides full benefits.
Even among nonunion plants, experts say AgriProcessors’ salaries are low. “I have not heard of a six-dollar wage since I started working in Nebraska in 1990,” said Lourdes Gouveia, director of the Office of Latino Studies at the University of Nebraska, where she studies working conditions in the meat packing industry.
He goes on: “Juana and other employees at AgriProcessors — they total about 800 — told the Forward that they receive virtually no safety training. This is an anomaly in an industry in which the tools are designed to cut and grind through flesh and bones. In just one month last summer, two young men required amputations; workers say there have been others since. The chickens and cattle fly by at a steady clip on metal hooks, and employees said they are berated for not working fast enough. In addition, employees told of being asked to bribe supervisors for better shifts and of being shortchanged on paychecks regularly.”
Thanks to Jason Barab of Confined Space for alerting me to the story.

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