Lack of OSHA inspectors, plus corporate greed: a recipe for worker abuse

This week a new report from Oxfam showed the ugliness of corporate greed in America’s food processing plants. The new report showed that workers from Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue and Sanderson Farms, were routinely not given bathroom breaks and had to wear diapers on the processing line.

“Workers urinate and defecate while standing on the line; they wear diapers to work; they restrict intake of liquids and fluids to dangerous degrees; they endure pain and discomfort while they worry about their health and job security. And they are in danger of serious health problems,” the report stated.

“The denial of bathroom breaks strikes women particularly hard. They face biological realities such as menstruation, pregnancy, and higher vulnerability to infections; and they struggle to maintain their dignity and privacy when requesting adequate time to use the restroom,” the report added.

This is absolutely disgusting. These are the people who are processing the food that we eat every day.

“A recent survey in Minnesota revealed that 86 percent of workers interviewed said they get fewer than two bathroom breaks in a week.”

Two bathroom trips a week. Are you kidding me? This is inhumane! People should not be treated in this way.

“We’re human beings who feel, and hurt, and we work the best we can. But it’s not enough for them. They demand more and more… They demand more than you can do,” said Marta a worker at Pilgrim’s Texas processing plant.

Right now you are probably asking yourself, “How could this happen? Don’t we have laws against this type of worker abuse?”

Yes as a matter of fact we do.

“Denial of regular access to the bathroom is a clear violation of US workplace safety law, and may alsoviolate US anti-discrimination laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and civil rights laws outlawing gender and sex discrimination,” the report stated.

We have strict labor laws to protect workers safety and health. We even created a national agency, OSHA, to enforce these laws.

And there in lies the problem. OSHA is so underfunded that enforcing these labor laws in next to impossible.

Republicans preach we need to reduce regulations to allow businesses to thrive. Since we have blocked them from taking away our rights as workers, they have taken away the funding to enforcement agencies.

As Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian of The Young Turk explain in this video segment (embedded below), OSHA only has the resources to “check less than 1% of worksites in 2013.”

Think about it. When was the last time OSHA came to your worksite?

Labor laws like mandatory breaks are violated all the time. Some workers do not even know these laws exist or that they have any rights in the workplace at all. They do not speak up to their bosses for fear of retaliation. In states like New Hampshire workers at “at law” employees and that means employers can fire you for any reason they want with no justification needed.

Want to test my theory? Next time you go out to a bar or restaurant ask the server when the last time they got their mandated 15 or 30 minute breaks?

The laws are not the problem; it is enforcing these laws where we fall apart. Without enforcement companies are left to regulate themselves. What a joke that is. Greedy corporations like Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue and Sanderson Farms don’t care about the workers, they only care about how much money they will make today. They don’t care if OSHA slaps them with a $10,000 fine for violating regulations, because they made $100,000 while they were breaking the law.

We need stronger enforcement of existing labor laws and bigger fines for those who violate these laws. This means the government needs to hire more inspectors to ensure that workers are safe on the job and greedy corporations are not violating workers’ rights.

This is also another example of why workers need to come together and form unions. Many unions have trained and dedicated members who ensure that workplace regulations are being adhered to and are not afraid to speak out when workers are put at risk.

If these workers were union members, there is no way this type of outrageous behavior from these corporations would have been allowed at all.

This article was reposted from NH Labor News.

Photo: Earl Dotter/Oxfam America via NH Labor News


Matt Murray
Matt Murray

Matt Murray is the creator and main blogger of the NH Labor News, an online progressive blog that focuses on labor in politics. Matt and the NHLN are pushing back against the daily attacks on working families and advocating for progress from our government at every level. You can follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

Matt is a dedicated union member, and lives in southern New Hampshire with his wife of 13 years and his three children.