February 6, 2015 Celeste Monforton, DrPH, MPH 2Comment

The story was about US immigration policy, but my-oh-my what it said about working conditions in poultry processing plants.

NPR’s Jim Zarroli reported from Georgia on the impact on businesses of the state’s 2011 law targeting undocumented immigrants. The president of Fieldale Farms, a poultry processing company, indicated he used to rely heavily on workers from Latin America and admitted that the documents of some may have been forged. But under the new law, undocumented workers are avoiding jobs in Georgia, and this is causing a problem for Fieldale Farms and other employers in the state. Fieldale Farms’ president Tom Hensley told Zarroli:

“We’ve had to hire middle-aged Americans who have not been used to working in an industrial facility and they have difficulty keeping up with the machines.”

Hmmm….difficulty keep up with the machines. Workers just can’t keep up.  I wonder….could it be that the machines are running too  fast?

If your average middle-aged Georgian can’t keep up with the poultry processing lines, does it seem right for a company to be expecting immigrant laborers to work at that pace?

When I hear about jobs that expect, by design, for people to contort themselves and work beyond their physical capacity, I know it’s a recipe for injuries. I can’t help but wonder if that’s what is going on when the poultry company president said this to Zarroli:

 “We hire 100 people a week. Because we have 100 people who quit every week, out of 5,000 employees. We’re constantly short.”

How many of those 100 people who quit do so because the work has taken a toll on their hands, wrists or other body parts? Doesn’t being ‘constantly short’ just compound the work pace problem? If those middle-aged Americans can’t keep up, how much worse is it when they have to do the job of two people? It’s a vicious cycle that can only be fixed by companies fitting the task to the worker, not the other way around.

What I wouldn’t do to track down those 100 former Fieldale Farms’ employees who quit last week. It would be enlightening to learn why they quit. And it’s too bad our official data on work-related injuries isn’t more than just a survey of employers. What if there was a complementary annual survey of workers? One question to ask would be: Did you quit a job last year because you were hurt or ill from your work?

2 thoughts on “Businessman’s problem: Workers can’t keep up with the machines

  1. Just wanted to compliment you. This is *so* good. Hope it gets more than the usual attention — by policymakers, too. I’ll be sending it around.

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