Thursday, May 12, 2016

Poultry-plant workers say they're denied bathroom breaks, forced to relieve selves at work stations

Workers at major poultry processing plants are routinely denied bathroom breaks, says a report by Oxfam America, an arm of the international anti-poverty and injustice group, Workers say they have been threatened with punishment or dismissal for asking for bathroom breaks, often urinate or defecate at their work stations, and have resorted to wearing adult diapers. In an effort to avoid needing to use the bathroom, workers said they restrict intake of liquids, often to dangerous levels. The report consisted of complaints from workers at plants run by Tyson, Perdue, Sanderson Farms and Pilgrim's. (News Journal photo)

"Supervisors deny requests to use the bathroom because they are under pressure to maintain the speed of the processing line, and to keep up production," says the report. "Once a poultry plant roars to a start at the beginning of the day, it doesn’t stop until all the chickens are processed. Workers are reduced to pieces of the machine, little more than the body parts that hang, cut, trim, and load—rapidly and relentlessly."

A survey of 266 Alabama poultry workers by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that nearly 80 percent of said they are not allowed to take bathroom breaks when needed, says the report. Another survey, in Minnesota, revealed that 86 percent of workers said they get fewer than two bathroom breaks per week. Many workers said bathroom breaks are limited to five minutes and no sympathy is giving to pregnant or menstruating women.

"By law, companies are required to grant their employees access to bathrooms," with processing plants using a system where one worker swaps places for another one who needs a break, Roberto Ferdman reports for The Washington Post. "But the system is either flawed or being eschewed by supervisors, according to Oxfam. Workers reported waiting for more than an hour for someone to swap in, if anyone came at all."

Tyson and Perdue, the only companies to respond to requests from Oxfam, denied the accusations. Gary Mickelson, senior director of public relations for Tyson, told the Post in an email: "We're concerned about these anonymous claims and while we currently have no evidence they're true, are checking to make sure our position on restroom breaks is being followed and our team members' needs are being met."

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