Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Report: Chicken plant in West Virginia has recorded a number of serious injuries; immigrants 'shoulder' more risks

Chicken segmentation line (Adobe Stock photo)
Working in any U.S. factory comes with some risk of injury, but immigrant workers at Pilgrim’s Pride’s chicken factory in Moorefield, West Virginia, have faced compounded dangers, according to a report.

"Over the past 30 years, thousands have left their homelands and come to Moorefield to work at West Virginia’s only industrial poultry plant," reports Allen Siegler of Mountain State Spotlight. "Seeking safety and a better life, they’ve often faced unsafe working conditions. . . . Throughout the last decade, Pilgrim’s Moorefield plant has been one of the most dangerous non-coal industrial workplaces in West Virginia."

Large knives, saws and automated equipment make poultry production inherently dangerous. This plant has had a number of documented injuries. "From 2015 to late 2023, 12 factory employees had workplace injuries that led to amputations or overnight hospitalizations, according to data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration," Siegler writes. Debbie Berkowitz, a former OSHA chief of staff, told Siegler, "This is a red flag on safety conditions in the plant."

Federal data doesn't include all injuries. Siegler explains, "In 2022 and 2023, local paramedics responded to calls to the Moorefield factory 138 times — about once every five days — according to the Hardy County Emergency Ambulance Authority. . . . In a state in which 91% of residents are white, a disproportionate amount of the danger is shouldered by the plant’s large immigrant workforce."

Immigrant workers often fear deportation should they speak up about workplace dangers or ask questions about how a job should be done. Others don't speak English, so a job at the Moorefield plant is one of their few options, Siegler reports. 

Despite efforts to get local or corporate Pilgrim's Pride officials to comment, "they didn’t answer a letter with over a dozen questions related to this story," Siegler writes. "A recent lawsuit against major American poultry corporations, including Pilgrim’s Pride, alleged the companies recruited vulnerable immigrant workers to staff some of the most dangerous jobs in the U.S. . . . Pilgrim’s denied these allegations and said the workers’ lawyers were selectively pulling unflattering quotes from various reports and people."

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