Magazine article U.S. Catholic

When Chickens Come Home to Roast: Are America's Poultry Kings Too Chicken to Listen to Catholic Bishops? (Margin Notes)

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

When Chickens Come Home to Roast: Are America's Poultry Kings Too Chicken to Listen to Catholic Bishops? (Margin Notes)

Article excerpt

A LOT OF NUTRITIONISTS CALL CHICKEN THE HEALTHY alternative to red meat--at least for consumers. But at the other end of the poultry industry on the hurried-up production lines of America's mammoth food processors, the benefits of poultry consumption are not so clear.

It's on those factory floors that a number of major contemporary U.S. social concerns--campaign finance reform, workers' rights, environmental degradation, agricultural and immigration policy--converge in the tired hands of a nearly invisible, predominantly immigrant labor force.

Mutilation and repetitive-stress injuries are ugly realities of life at poultry facilities. Line work in the food processing industry has been assailed by critics as the most dangerous job in America. Often at physical risk, workers can also be hurt fiscally on the job. An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor in 2000 found wage and hour violations at all of the 51 facilities randomly selected for the study.

For years, union organizers have complained that food processors have pitted immigrant groups against U.S.-born workers in largely successful efforts to weaken union representation. Many alleged that certain large producers were even in the habit of importing busloads of undocumented workers from Mexico as production needs or a union-organizing drive required their presence.

Industry representatives denied the Charges. They still do, even as two Tyson Food executives and four of its managers face a 36-count conspiracy indictment for immigrant smuggling into 15 Tyson poultry facilities across nine states. One ex-employee has already pleaded guilty to routinely "importing" as many as 2,000 Mexican workers over seven years on behalf of Tyson, a company whose owners and executives have regularly made large contributions to political campaigns--including helping to bankroll a certain one-time Arkansas governor's career.

That ex-employee has agreed to cooperate with federal authorities. It will be worth noting how far this investigation leads into this politically well-connected industry.

One of the industry's little-advertised traits has been its deep reliance on undocumented labor. …

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