Edited: We're done for the day! Thank you all for your great questions. Find out how you can join our campaign here: https://www.oxfamamerica.org/explore/stories/no-relief-for-poultry-workers/

Did you see all the news reports about poultry workers being denied bathroom breaks at work? That was us.

Oliver Gottfried is a Senior Advocacy and Collaborations Advisor at Oxfam America. Magaly Licolli is the Executive Director of the Northwest Arkansas Workers' Justice Center which works with low wage workers in Northwest Arkansas, including poultry processing workers. Together, we're leading the call for the top 4 poultry companies – Tyson, Pilgrim’s, Perdue, and Sanderson Farms, who together control 60% of the industry – to improve conditions for America’s 250,000 poultry processing workers.

We'll be taking your questions until 11AM about the horrible conditions poultry workers face across the US, including the routine denial of bathroom breaks, and our campaign to improve conditions for workers.

*Link to our report: https://www.oxfamamerica.org/explore/research-publications/no-relief/

*Link to Oxfam petition to Big Poultry: https://secure2.oxfamamerica.org/page/s/stand_with_poultry_workers

*Link to Northwest Arkansas Workers' Justice Center​ petition to Tyson in Arkansas: https://www.change.org/p/tyson-foods-tell-poultry-companies-in-arkansas-respect-your-workers

*News coverage: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/05/11/i-had-to-wear-pampers-many-poultry-industry-workers-allegedly-cant-even-take-bathroom-breaks/

Join our campaign by posting on social media with the hashtag #GiveThemABreak!

Proof: https://twitter.com/OxfamAmerica/status/732999494040686593

Comments: 1953 • Responses: 22  • Date: 

w1llz3736 karma

How often should workers get bathroom breaks, according to the law?

forsayken1294 karma

I can barely fathom not being able to go to the bathroom when I need to. What I'm reading in this post is rather sickening. Shame on the owners of these factories.

oxfamamerica614 karma

It is really awful. And it happens to so many people everyday. There are over 250K poultry workers in the US!

forsayken162 karma

Do you know if Canada or Europe face similar problems to the same extent as the US?

oxfamamerica265 karma

While a lot of the problem is certainly due to the lack of inspections and the climate of fear in US plants, it does in fact happen in other places. Here is an example from the Guardian about conditions in the UK: http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/dec/22/uk-chicken-farming-puts-workers-and-food-safety-at-risk

oxfamamerica393 karma

The law currently requires that "employers allow employees prompt access to sanitary facilities. Restrictions on access must be reasonable and may not cause extended delays."

We've heard from workers that the restrictions are unreasonable and the delays are very extended. Poultry companies should hire a specific number of replacement workers so that take bathroom breaks whenever they need to. - Oliver

matunascraft722 karma

How does an entire industry avoid OSHA laws like this?

I could see one shop or business doing it, but to have this happen in the same way in different companies is astonishing.

oxfamamerica772 karma

Unfortunately, OSHA is a small and underfunded agency, which only goes into a handful of poultry plants every year. The agency has enough personnel to inspect just 1 percent of all workplaces in the US each year; it would take 114 years to inspect each workplace once.

On the upside, OSHA recently launched targeted inspection programs in the poultry industry, and will be investigating violations. - Oliver

Mutt1223314 karma

Who would've ever thought bathrooms would be the hot button issue of 2016? Is there a poultry company you've found that stands out (in a good way) in terms of providing for their employees?

oxfamamerica197 karma

Crazy all the attention on bathrooms! Sometimes it takes a visceral issue like that getting notice to create social change.

We have spent several years talking to workers from many of the largest poultry companies in the US and unfortunately, none of them appears to have better practices when it comes to the treatment of their workers. We are hoping that one of the industry leaders, such as Tyson, Pilgrim’s, Perdue or Sanderson, takes the lead in implementing better working conditions and becomes a leader in the industry. They will be more likely to do that if they hear that this is a priority for their customers, so please take action and let them hear from you. Sign our petition here: https://secure2.oxfamamerica.org/page/s/stand_with_poultry_workers

CalcasieuRed124 karma

I read that this is less of an issue at unionized plants.

What are the different processes that union plants have in place that allow bathroom breaks while not disrupting production?

oxfamamerica193 karma

It is true, that unionized workers report many fewer problems with having access to bathroom breaks. In union plants, workers are protected by collective bargaining agreements and a grievance process and are much more aware of their rights. Union workers report feeling empowered and more able to leave the line if needed. Overall, one-third of all poultry workers are unionzed, giving them these important protections.

Thalesian72 karma

It is shocking that in 2016 we are talking about this problem. Lots of questions come to mind:

  1. Notable Cable Muckraker John Oliver discussed how companies like Tyson manipulate chicken farmers into terrifyingly asymmetric contracts. On which end is more worker abuse happening, on the cash strapped farmer side or the packaging side?

  2. Are the workers citizens of the US? Or are they held hostage by recent/not so recent immigration to the US?

  3. Aside from developmentally disabled dinosaurs chickens, are there other industries in the US that abuse employees like this?

  4. What can I as a random internet person do to help?

oxfamamerica45 karma

  1. Although they're very different situations, they are both being exploited by poultry companies. Chicken farmers are locked into onerous contracts by these companies that can lead to bankruptcy while poultry workers experience low pay and inhumane working conditions. Hard to say which is worse - they are both horrible!

  2. Most of the processing workers are minorities, immigrants, and refugees - the most vulnerable people. Many are immigrants and have tenuous immigration status, which the companies can exploit through threats of firing/deportation.

  3. Unfortunately, yes, anytime you have vulnerable populations being exploited by big corporations, there will likely be abuse. But the reason we're working with poultry workers is that we found it to be one of the worst industries for workers.

  4. Sign our Oxfam petition targeting big 4 poultry companies: https://secure2.oxfamamerica.org/page/s/stand_with_poultry_workers Sign the NWAWJ Center petition about Tyson in Arkansas: https://www.change.org/p/tyson-foods-tell-poultry-companies-in-arkansas-respect-your-workers. And post on social media using the hashtag #GiveThemABreak

floormatt358 karma

On top of these obvious OSHA and human rights violations, the poultry industry has also come under fire by the ridiculous conditions they keep their animals and make their workers work (ie. chickens are not allowed sunlight, are packed tightly, worked are stepping all over chickens, they have to club chickens).

In your opinion, is this the straw that will break the camel's back? Chicken farmers have spoken out before, but this case seems to be an obvious violation. Do you think America will care enough to make a difference, even against the Trump campaign?

oxfamamerica45 karma

Yes, consumers are becoming more aware of where their food comes from. Recently the poultry industry has started to institute a few positive changes, specifically, moving to cage-free eggs and getting rid of antibiotics because of consumer demands, which is why we're calling on consumers to take action and tell poultry companies directly on social media that we won't stand for the poor treatment of workers. Join the conversation using the hashtag #GiveThemABreak.

CollinWoodard57 karma

How has no one gone to jail for this yet?

oxfamamerica132 karma

Many poultry workers don't know that it is against the law for them to be denied a bathroom break. Just since we released our report last week, we've heard from many workers who say this is happening to them and they had no idea it was illegal. Hopefully after the visibility of this report, more workers will feel empowered to speak up. - Oliver

SputtleTuts50 karma

What do you think is the reason that these companies feel the urge to skirt labor laws and revert to 1800s-style working conditions?

Do people eat too much chicken? Are margins too low in the industry? Do corporate exec take bonuses that are too large?

Or is it just run of the mill corporate greed, combined with the mortal hazard of never being held responsible for these crimes?

oxfamamerica55 karma

Americans do eat a lot of chicken, and the industry does have to produce a lot of chicken to meet demand. This has made poultry companies very profitable, and they've chosen to put profits over the welfare of their workers. The line speed constantly keeps increasing to meet ever-growing goals.

Companies have set up a dynamic where they can take advantage of minority and disadvantaged populations and squeeze more and more production out of people.

The federal government isn't able to be in every poultry plant, so companies are able to perpetuate these conditions, knowing they rarely get the kind of scrutiny that's necessary to catch violations. - Oliver and Magaly

StormCrow177015 karma

Are there any other corporations besides Tyson, Pilgrim’s, Perdue, and Sanderson Farms that deny bathroom breaks?

oxfamamerica27 karma

Magaly: In Northwest Arkansas, there are other poultry companies whose workers we meet with. We hear from workers at Simmons, George’s, Ozark Mountain Poultry that these problems happen there too.

Oliver: We have also interviewed workers from Case Farms in North Carolina who report these problems, and an government investigation of Allen Harim Foods in Delaware found workers being denied breaks. Overall, it appears that these problematic conditions happen everywhere across the industry. But Tyson, Pilgrim’s, Perdue, and Sanderson, as market leaders in the poultry industry, have the responsibility to improve their working conditions which will cause their competitors to follow their lead. Join our campaign by posting on social media with the hashtag #GiveThemABreak!

vtipoman9 karma

Biggest challenge you faced so far?

oxfamamerica17 karma

Oliver & Magaly: One of the biggest challenges is getting workers comfortable speaking up and sharing their stories, because they are afraid of being retaliated against for speaking out. They depend on these jobs for their livelihood and cannot risk losing their jobs.

It is also very difficult because in the areas where poultry companies are located, the companies are very powerful and local people feel also intimidated about speaking up on behalf of workers. Poultry companies make many charitable donations to local organizations and support the local economies.

Pannra8 karma

Wait, so out of their whole shift they are never allowed to use the bathroom?

oxfamamerica29 karma

Oliver & Magaly: It really depends on plant to plant. Oftentimes workers are only allowed to use the restroom at scheduled breaks when many, many other people are trying to use the bathroom at the same time. Some plants don't have scheduled breaks at all besides the one scheduled lunch breaks. For workers that ask to take a break while the line is running, they'll often have to wait 30 minutes + to find someone to replace their spot on the line (if they're not mocked or denied outright) and many resort to purposefully dehydrating themselves or wearing diapers.

kgmoome6 karma

Can you explain how they are being denied a bathroom break?

Are they not allowed a bathroom break during the actual processing? Do they allow any breaks at all?

oxfamamerica19 karma

When they ask for permission, companies have to find a replacement to take their place on the line so production can continue. Often companies do not have enough replacement workers so finding one takes time, often 30 minutes or more.

Sometimes as soon as workers request a break, their supervisors wil mock them, or harass them, or simply deny the request. So workers deal with this by either restricting their intake of fluids, wearing diapers, or even urinating on themselves at their workstation. - Oliver and Magaly

Any-sao5 karma

How influential have you been in this fight? Has there been any noteworthy change since your organization began?

oxfamamerica4 karma

Since we launched our campaign, Tyson committed to a third-party audit of every plant in its operations - definitely a significant step forward. But major questions remain. Who will conduct these audits? Will the results be made public? Will there be a program of action steps to address issues the audits uncover? Will workers have a voice in the process - in the selection of the auditor, in the issues studied, and the action steps to follow? We'll be watching!

FleeCircus3 karma

How widespread is this level of worker abuse in the industry?

oxfamamerica11 karma

Over the last many years, Oxfam and other organizations have interviewed thousands of workers across the country from many of the largest poultry companies and have found these conditions to be very widespread. The industry is built on tapping into marginalized populations (immigrants, refugees, minorities, even prisoners) and take advantage of these vulnerable workers to perpetuate these conditions. The problems are not just denial of bathroom breaks, but also low pay, few benefits, high rates of injuries and poor medical care, and a climate of fear where workers are terrified of ever speaking out.

Other groups have also run surveys/studies that shows how widespread this problem is: In one survey of 266 workers in Alabama conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, nearly 80 percent said they are not allowed to take bathroom breaks when needed. And a recent survey in Minnesota revealed that 86 percent of workers interviewed said they get fewer than two bathroom breaks in a week. - Oliver and Magaly

LazyBuhdaBelly2 karma

Which poultry company provides the best working conditions?

oxfamamerica3 karma

We have spent several years talking to workers from many of the largest poultry companies in the US and unfortunately, none of them appears to have better practices when it comes to the treatment of their workers. We are hoping that one of the industry leaders, such as Tyson, Pilgrim’s, Perdue or Sanderson, takes the lead in implementing better working conditions and becomes a leader in the industry. They will be more likely to do that if they hear that this is a priority for their customers, so please take action and let them hear from you. Sign our petition here: https://secure2.oxfamamerica.org/page/s/stand_with_poultry_workers

MrLKK1 karma

Assuming you succeed at your goal here, do you plan on doing other things to help workers in Arkansas / the US?

oxfamamerica2 karma

Magaly: At the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center, we also work with other low wage workers, as in construction workers and also restaurant workers. We help them understand their rights, case of wage theft and discrimination, and do trainings on health and safety. We will continue to advocate for the rights of law wage workers in our area.

Oliver: At Oxfam, for several years we have had a “Decent Work” program that specifically deals with conditions facing workers in the food system. We recently helped incubate the Equitable Food Initiative, which is an innovative program engaging farmworkers in greater transparency and safety in fresh produce. We are looking into other sectors of the economy where workers face arduous conditions, low wages, and are under represented.

_warren-1 karma

So whose chicken shit idea was this? [couldn't resist]

No but seriously, you guys are doing fantastic work; it's ridiculous that there has to be a fight for this.

oxfamamerica1 karma

We sent this comment around to our colleagues and friends at the Northwest Arkansas Workers' Justice Center​. Thank you!

Cancler-8 karma

Have you ever pooped your pants?

oxfamamerica9 karma

The Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center deals with workers issues, including poultry workers. We constantly hear from workers that conditions in poultry plants are inhumane. We hear many reports of workers who have urinated on themselves, witnessed co-workers urinating on themselves, or have worn diapers as the only way to deal with being denied access to the bathroom. - Magaly