Eat Less Chikin — it’s made from the blood of labor


In one accounting, Joseph Grendys is worth $2.9 billion. In a more accurate accounting, he ain’t worth shit.

He’s the underserving owner of big chicken processing plants, an enterprise desperate for cheap labor and loaded with terrible working conditions. One of the reasons they hire undocumented workers is because they can be paid little and compelled to work under inhumane, dangerous connections, so that people like Grendys can make more money; because this country is caught up in anti-immigrant fervor, ICE can carry out massive raids on his plants and arrest workers, not bosses, and no one complains…at least no one with any influence.

You might be wondering, though…doesn’t this disrupt the work, costing Mr Grandys money? Sure, but he’d rather pay it out as a little loss in output than to, for instance, pay workers a living wage, or upgrade the processing plant to be cleaner and safer. And, as it turns out, this raid occurred after the plant was penalized for harrassment, and after efforts to unionize. We here in America have a fine tradition of brutal union-busting, how convenient that the federal government provides thugs at no cost to the owner.

The unusually large size of the raids is unheard of, but in this instance, there were extenuating circumstances. A raid that took in an estimated 680 immigrants of various statuses was allegedly planned 11 months in advance. In this case, the circumstances include a $3.75-million-dollar lawsuit settlement. This lawsuit, brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in a Morton, Mississippi, plant included accusations of physical and sexual assaults against its workers. There were also accusations of intimidation, labor violations, exploitation, and harassment of its labor force, with immigrants making up a huge portion of that labor. Some people believe that the raids may be part of a larger intimidation. According to the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, “ICE field office’s actions will fuel labor abuses, human trafficking, and a race to the bottom for workers’ rights.”

It’s not just brown-skinned people who feel the hammer, though. Have you ever heard of Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery, also called “The Chicken Farm”? It’s a program operating in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas and Missouri which purports to provide an alternative to prison for anyone convicted of drug crimes, although they’re apparently willing to accept anyone, whether they’re addicted to anything or not. You can sort of guess where this is going by the word “Christian” in the name.

About 280 men are sent to CAAIR each year by courts throughout Oklahoma, as well as Arkansas, Texas and Missouri. Instead of paychecks, the men get bunk beds, meals and Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. If there’s time between work shifts, they can meet with a counselor or attend classes on anger management and parenting. Weekly Bible study is mandatory. For the first four months, so is church. Most days revolve around the work.

“Money is an obstacle for so many of these men,” said Janet Wilkerson, CAAIR’s founder and CEO. “We’re not going to charge them to come here, but they’re going to have to work. That’s a part of recovery, getting up like you and I do every day and going to a job.”

The program has become an invaluable labor source. Over the years, Simmons Foods repeatedly has laid off paid employees while expanding its use of CAAIR. Simmons now is so reliant on the program for some shifts that the plants likely would shut down if the men didn’t show up, according to former staff members and plant supervisors.

Translate “Money is an obstacle for so many of these men” to “We make them work for free.”

Jim Lovell, CAAIR’s vice president of program management, said there’s dignity in work.

“If working 40 hours a week is a slave camp, then all of America is a slave camp,” he said.

“Dignity in work”. There’s also dignity in earning a just and fair return on one’s labor. Is there dignity in being a parasite who lives on the dangerous, back-breaking work of others?

I’m going to have to agree with that last statement, though. The rich are doing their best to turn the country into a slave camp, to their benefit.

Just to put more frosting on the grift, here’s a cute trick the parasites can pull. Chicken processing is dangerous work — all kinds of machines that shred birds can also do terrible things to worker’s limbs. And when someone’s hands are shattered in a machine? CHA-CHING, CAAIR gets the benefits.

Men who were injured while at CAAIR rarely receive long-term help for their injuries. That’s because the program requires all men to sign a form stating that they are clients, not employees, and therefore have no right to workers’ comp. Reveal found that when men got hurt, CAAIR filed workers’ comp claims and kept the payouts. Injured men and their families never saw a dime.

Wait! There’s more! Remember, CAAIR is advertising itself as a tool for therapy and recovery of addicted individuals. So why don’t they employ therapists and experts in drug treatment?

In addition to injuries, some men at CAAIR experience serious drug withdrawal, seizures and mental health crises, according to former employees. But the program doesn’t employ trained medical staff and prohibits psychiatric medicine.

Poultry processing has become a sinkhole of unfair, criminal labor practices. All I can say is…stop eating chicken. It’s cheap protein where the filthy rich can degrade worker’s lives in its production, because it is poorly regulated.

Maybe you can start eating KFC again when the profits of their labor is shifted to the pockets of the workers someday.

Comments

  1. thirdmill301 says

    “Men who were injured while at CAAIR rarely receive long-term help for their injuries. That’s because the program requires all men to sign a form stating that they are clients, not employees, and therefore have no right to workers’ comp.”

    Fine, then they should be able to sue for negligence. The tradeoff is that if you’e an employee, you get worker’s comp but can’t sue for negligence; if you’re not an employee, then you can sue for negligence, which normally pays a lot better than worker’s comp anyone.

  2. Akira MacKenzie says

    Ah yes, “dignity in work.” I’ve often phrase oft repeated by conservatives and libertarians who generally never worked outside of an office or a cube-farm their entire careers. Hell, I used it myself back in my bad-old Republican days when I tried to explain that even the most degrading, low-paying drudge-job was somehow morally superior to being a welfare “parasite” who’s ill-gotten benefits were stolen from the “productive!”

    I really, really hate 16-to-24-year-old me.

  3. whywhywhy says

    So they make money off of the mangling of humans? How does this incentivize safe working conditions? How is this not illegal? At the very least it seems like fraud?

  4. Jeremy Shaffer says

    Jim Lovell, CAAIR’s vice president of program management, said there’s dignity in work.

    Outside of an ironic capacity, I’ve never heard the phrase “dignity in work” spoken by someone who wasn’t exceptionally fast to denigrate or abuse people with jobs they believed beneath themselves.

    “If working 40 hours a week is a slave camp, then all of America is a slave camp,” he said.

    I think someone is intentionally missing an integral component in their comparison here; unless, of course, Jim Lovell is willing to forgo compensation. I’m sure he’ll have no problem using dignity to pay for things.

  5. PaulBC says

    Not to mention the blood of chickens. The fact that I’m not a vegetarian is one of the things I dislike most about myself. It wouldn’t be that hard to fix, but I’m lazy. It is also harder now because my kids are not vegetarian. I suppose I could prepare separate meals for myself.

    It is insane that we bring billions of conscious entities into existence intentionally every year and subject most of them to immeasurable cruelty just to provide a relatively inefficient source of protein.

    And not to dismiss the concerns of labor. Meat is a dirty business all around.

  6. PaulBC says

    Wait! There’s more! Remember, CAAIR is advertising itself as a tool for therapy and recovery of addicted individuals. So why don’t they employ therapists and experts in drug treatment?

    None of this seems remotely surprising. It is also not hard to imagine that a large swath of America believes this is what drug addicts “deserve.” It’s just what Jesus would do, except maybe he’d make them gut fish because he was a fisherman (more plausibly that a carpenter anyway).

    Remember the scene in Pinocchio where the bad kids all get to have fun for a little while before they are transformed into donkeys for labor? Many Americans consider this to be a form of justice.

  7. mikehuben says

    People who excuse evil practices with “dignity in work” should be re-educated in the rice farms.

  8. microraptor says

    This sounds like union-busting on a level like that of the Gilded Age and the Pinkerton Detective Agency.

  9. avalus says

    Dianne nailed it.
    Concentration camps, yes, slave labor, yes. When does the extermination begin?

  10. kestrel says

    Interesting. I want to bring up the fact that many of these chickens die to feed pet animals. I read one estimate that one cat requires about 100 chicken’s worth of calories each year.

    To me this makes this situation way worse. We are treating fellow human beings like this, in order to feed pet animals.

    We should never treat human beings like this, ever. To do so to enrich a few humans is to me beyond reprehensible.

    Money is not the only thing in life.

  11. kome says

    PZ, there’s an interesting juxtaposition between this blog post and your preceding blog post about Epstein’s death. To my knowledge, we do not have direct evidence that the ICE raid on the factory is connected to the lawsuit outcome. I suspect many people find the coincidence of those two events to indicate a connection. I certainly do. But what makes that suspicion more justifiable than the suspicion that Epstein’s death might have involved some degree of foul play, which you resoundingly rejected just yesterday? And I am curious about the thought-process for anyone who thinks the ICE raid is connected to the harassment lawsuit’s outcome but doesn’t think Epstein’s death involved any ounce of foul play. Is it purely a parsimony issue?

  12. says

    My stepson who has mental issues as well as a history of drug abuse, went through a Christian drug addiction “therapy” program. Their main work consisted of making wooden pallets for the owner; prayer groups were mandatory, and no certified drug counselors there. One day one of the pallets sipped and fell on my stepson’s foot. Instead of taking him to see a doctor they did nothing. Not even an aspirin was administered while he was in horrible pain. And not only did they refuse to take him to see a doctor, they had nobody with basic medical training at the facility. I thought that was shocking but the state of Indiana was behind the place. I’ve worked for corporations for over 20 years and if you were injured on the job my company would immediately investigate and would ensure I got the medical help I needed. Why is it tax exempt places like this who have no people running the show who are professionals outside of their religious choice?

  13. PaulBC says

    I’ve worked for corporations for over 20 years and if you were injured on the job my company would immediately investigate and would ensure I got the medical help I needed. Why is it tax exempt places like this who have no people running the show who are professionals outside of their religious choice?

    Because corporations are bound by OSHA regulations. OSHA as such has existed since 1970, but I think it is safe to say it has its roots in 19th century progressive reforms and the achievements of labor unions of getting these into law. They are consistent with the worldview of utopians like Edward Bellamy (Looking Backward) who believed that life could be made better for everyone through collective action aimed at meeting material needs.

    Many (though not all) Christians, by contrast are bound by a notion of the deserving and undeserving, and are inclined to look at the drug dependent as “undeserving.” Some of them might even look at an injury like that as just deserts and an example to others. They might not verbalize it like this, but “normal” people are capable of extreme cruelty, particularly when they can find a moral justification for it. The fact that there’s also a financial motive to ignoring injuries is significant, but I’m inclined to think it is more of a contributing factor than the root cause (I find a lot of leftwing people attribute to greed what is more likely to be explained by a value system applied cruelly and not always with any material benefit at all).

    Anyway, I think your question was rhetorical, but the answer is not that difficult.

  14. Rich Woods says

    Poultry processing has become a sinkhole of unfair, criminal labor practices.

    Don’t expect the UK’s government to give a cloacal shit about this when the post-Brexit exigential trade deal with the US is being finalised.

  15. monad says

    Is chicken worse than other farming, or at least other meats, in these respects? I hate that I have to ask – but we’re long past the point where a horror show of rights violations means something is specifically wrong, as opposed to wrong across the board. Boycotts can help with the one case, but the other needs proper regulation (and in truth both do, trying to put the burden of fixing society entirely on individual consumers is deflection, but you get what I mean).

  16. Jazzlet says

    In the UK if you are found to be employing illegal immigrants you get fined up to £10,000 per illegal employee. Though I expect that kind of thing will go the way of unbleached chicken once we have a trade deal with our special pals across the Atlantic.

  17. says

    Ugg…I’m now realizing the sick and twisted side of this news about how the Trump administration is supposedly “aimed at altering the flow of legal immigration and reducing the number of poor immigrants.” I suspect they know their policy ain’t going to do shit in that regard. Rather, what it will do is much like the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice has noted about this ICE raid in “fueling labor abuses, human trafficking, and a race to the bottom for workers’ rights” because those workers will be even less willing to rock the boat than they are today. :(

  18. John Morales says

    monad,

    Is chicken worse than other farming, or at least other meats, in these respects?

    Short, if depressing, answer is ‘no’.

    I appreciate your concern for the poor factory-farmed chooks; I share it.

    (Ain’t just humans suffering, but it’s a lot easier making chooks happy. Doable, even.
    I do it)

  19. wzrd1 says

    In this, I do have experience in, in spades.
    Not personally, thank Silent Bob!
    But, due to a pair of people we “adopted”, in that very region and it is uglier than you suggest.

    Prisoners have to support themselves or starvation diet is the norm.
    Work on the farms. Sorta-kinda, things support well, slavery.
    The rest get boxed up.
    Zero training, works like a wet dream of putting ol’ blue into a wood chipper.
    Zero gain, full punishment, no leadership, beyond “I am Master”, for the few offered such a program.
    Don’t get me started in their frequently fatal substance abuse “programs”, which are Christian, ineffective programs.
    Resulting in a loop…

  20. Dunc says

    Don’t expect the UK’s government to give a cloacal shit about this when the post-Brexit exigential trade deal with the US is being finalised.

    It’s worse than that – the rabid Hayekian free-marketeers behind Brexit see the inevitable race to the bottom on environmental standards and labour rights as a benefit, as it will enable them to roll-back all those awful statist regulations that we’ve introduced since the Gilded Age. They’re positively enthusiastic about this sort of thing.

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