Meatpacking plants pack a painful punch for workers

In 1906 Upton Sinclair introduced society to The Jungle, a novel describing many subcultures of our economy. The Jungle describes in detail many aspects of the meatpacking industry: men falling into grinders to be packaged with animal meat, children working under standards that adults could barely face, rotten meat covered in barbecue sauce and sold. The tragic events told in the book caused major concern and helped create the Food and Drug Administration.

It seems as if we are in need of another society-ripper similar to that of The Jungle. Our workers, legal or not, are being tested by means of near death and body mutilation every day. About one quarter of the meatpacking industry suffers a work-related injury every year.

The speed at which workers must to perform their routine cuts on meat is around one cut every two to three seconds, totaling about 10,000 cuts in a normal shift.

This routine poses threats to workers’ bodies with strain as well as unneeded pressure that intensifies as the blade dulls. These routine body blows caused by repetition are the least-feared injury in the factory.

Also, medical insurance is not always provided to factory workers. Before injured workers can potentially receive health insurance, they must sign a sheet waiving any right to sue the company if just medical actions are not pursued. Maybe a worker is lucky enough to receive the proper treatment.

There is, however, a job more dangerous than the crew at the meatpacking plant. The sanitation crew cleaning the plant at night faces atrocious tasks such as cleaning the filth, feces and residue of the 3,000-4,000 cattle slaughtered each day by spraying a mixture of water and chlorine that is heated to 180 degrees, according to Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation. Visibility reduces to a body’s length with conveyer belts and bone crushers turned on. Fumes from chemicals have led to extremely high death rates among sanitation crews. And, ironically, pay is about one third of a meatpacking worker’s salary.

I must say we still have much residue of a "trust" environment when companies are fined in the hundreds of dollars for an employee’s death. I understand the intolerance of sweatshops and outsourced cheap labor by the companies we all know that do it, but I challenge UH Students Against Sweatshops and similar organizations to increase awareness for this characteristic of our nation. The results could be better conditions, increased pay that attracts American citizens and that may, ultimately, increase external efficacy; it’s a long shot, but still a cause.

Leave a Comment