The scathing 175-page report, "Blood, Sweat, and Fear: Workers' Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry plants," released Tuesday, examined beef packing in Nebraska, hog slaughtering in North Carolina and chicken processing in Arkansas and reported unnecessarily hazardous work conditions and exploitation of immigrant labor.
The report by the privately funded human-rights organization accused large meat companies of using intimidation, reprisals, threats and fear of deportation to take advantage of immigrant workers.
American Meat Institute President and Chief Executive Officer J. Patrick Boyle said the report was so far off the mark he would need 175 pages to correct the "falsehoods and baseless claims."
"Meat packing is the most dangerous factory job in America," said Lance Compa, the report's author who teaches labor and industrial relations at Cornell University. "Dangerous conditions are cheaper for companies, and the government does next to nothing."
The report used three plants operated by Omaha-based Nebraska Beef Ltd., Smithfield Foods pork plant in Tar Heel, N.C., and a Tyson Foods poultry plant in Arkansas as case studies to show how the increased speed of production, close-quarter working conditions, poor training and insufficient safety programs have made meat processing so hazardous.
"On each work shift workers made up to 30,000 hard-cutting motions with sharp knives, causing massive repetitive motion injuries and frequent lacerations," Human Rights Watch said. The report said workers often failed to receive compensation for workplace injuries because of companies' delay, denial or failure to report injuries and that workers who file claims faced retaliation.
The report recommended uniform rules including:
- Ergonomics standards to protect workplace health and safety;
- Workers' compensation benefits;
- Enforcement of existing labor law to bring it into compliance with international standards;
- Enactment of the Employee Free Choice Act; and
- Federal legislation to protect workers when they attempt to organize.
AMI's Boyle said in a statement that federal OSHA has not had a significant complaint against a meatpacker for decades.