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  • U.S. Poultry Workers Denied Basic Bathroom Access
    Posted On: May 12, 2016

    By JoAnne Powers, May 13, 2016

    A new report from Oxfam America shows that in addition to generally facing some of the worst working conditions in the country, poultry workers are also frequently denied the ability to use the bathroom.  Oliver Gottfried, Senior Advocacy and Collaborations Advisor at Oxfam America:

    [Oliver Gottfried]: “The stories we heard were shocking: workers who reported having to wait an hour or more, they needed to use the restroom; being subjected to taunts and harassment and discrimination from supervisors when they did something as simple as asking to leave to go to the bathroom; workers deliberately reducing their intake of fluids so that they wouldn’t have to leave the line to go to the bathroom, and then the complications that would cause in terms of dehydration,  and then in the most extreme circumstances workers being compelled to urinate or defecate on themselves on the line because they weren’t allowed to leave, or even wearing diapers on the line to cover for that.”

    The report looked at both the personal and medical problems that result from this offense to basic dignity and humanity.  Over 100,000 women poultry workers in the country are experiencing these problems even worse than their male counterparts.  In addition to no special accommodations for menstruation, women are at higher risk of infections:

    [Oliver Gottfried]: “One of the main medical results of not being able to use the bathroom is the development of urinary tract infections, and those are particularly acute when a woman can be pregnant.  There’s more of a need to go to the bathroom, you are even more susceptible to infection, and obviously that puts both the mother and the child at risk.”

    In addition to poverty wages, and extremely high rates of injury and illness, they often experience a climate of fear in the workplace.  Denial of bathroom breaks for poultry workers also has an impact on food safety:

    [Oliver Gottfried]: “To think that there are workers that are forced to urinate or defecate on themselves or who develop infections because of a lack of ability to use the bathroom, and the potential impact that has on the safety of our food, is really alarming.”

    The four largest poultry companies in the U.S., Tyson, Pilgrim, Perdue and Sanders control almost 60% of the country’s chicken and provide to every major grocery store, fast food chain and school cafeteria.  Oxfam believes these companies have a responsibility to treat their workers well.  Their earlier report, “Lives on the Line, the Human Cost of Cheap Chicken,” outlines a series of recommendations they’re asking the big poultry companies to implement:

    [Oliver Gottfried]: “A living wage, good benefits like earned sick time, slowing line speeds down so workers don’t have to work quite as quickly and giving them better training and better equipment reduces the risk of injury.  The poultry industry is incredibly profitable.  It’s the most popular meat in America by far.  The average American eats 89 pounds of chicken per year.  The workers who process this chicken for us not only earn poverty-level wages, but they’re also subjected to terrible working conditions like not being able to use the bathroom when they want to, and we believe that that’s unconscionable, and we believe it’s the responsibility of this incredibly-profitable industry to treat their workers with the respect and dignity that they deserve.”

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