Required Reading: Working Conditions in the NC Poultry Industry

Check out this amazing six-part series on workers’ rights in the North Carolina poultry industry from the Charlotte Observer.  From the editor’s introduction:

These workers — about 28,000 of them in the Carolinas — process chicken and turkey in all its forms. Whole birds, fillets, nuggets, slices, cubes, sausage and even hot dogs.

It may surprise you to learn that most of the workers speak Spanish. Many of them entered the country illegally.

Should that matter as you consider the working conditions you will read about?

I say yes, but maybe not for the most obvious reason.

It should matter because the neglect of these workers exposes an ugly dimension to a new subclass in our society. A disturbing subclass of compliant workers with few, if any, rights.

I say disturbing because North and South Carolina share some regrettable history of building economies on the backs of such workers.

Before the Civil War, slaves and poor sharecroppers powered the region’s tobacco and cotton plantations. Early in the 20th century, children as young as 8 were put to work in Carolinas textile mills to help feed their poor families.

Consider the parallel to illegal immigrants. Same as slaves and sharecroppers, same as the cotton mill workers derisively termed “lintheads,” this subclass is now a scorned bunch.

And yet they help power our economy. We live in houses they built. We drive on highways they paved. We eat the chicken and turkey they prepared.

Illegal immigrants often take the least desirable jobs, earning low wages, because those jobs lift them and their families from the poverty they left behind in their homelands.

As a group, they are compulsively compliant, ever-conscious that one complaint could lead to their firing or arrest or deportation.

“Some speak out, but most of these workers just wanted to remain in the shadows,” said Franco Ordoñez, a reporter who spent months speaking to workers in the Latino communities surrounding the poultry plants. “It’s just not worth it, considering how much they’ve already risked, to draw more attention to themselves — even if they’re hurt. They’re like the perfect victims.”

And, as you will read today, businesses take advantage of their silence and vulnerability.

Will we allow such conditions to go unchecked again?


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