NAACP Supports Poultry Workers and Opposes Faux “Work Camps”
WHEREAS, the food processing industry is a notoriously high-hazard industry in which workplace safety is a key concern, and there have been allegations of employer misconduct, especially instances in which poultry processing plant owners are in cahoots with local judges and prosecutors; and
WHEREAS, currently, the majority of poultry workers are women and people of color, individuals with relatively low levels of formal education or limited English language skills, and those who do not enjoy the benefits of full U.S. citizenship, all of whom tend to concentrate in industries that have a need for low-skilled labor. An example is immigrants from the Marshall Islands, whose largest employer in Arkansas by far is the poultry industry, (poultry processing plants are currently located primarily in the Southern United States); and
WHEREAS, in the spring of 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) considered increasing the limit of birds per minute (bpm) processed from 140 to 175 for any poultry plant that agreed to adopt a new poultry inspection system; and
WHEREAS, the NAACP working in coalition with several other groups including unions representing the workers, consumer groups, food safety groups, and other national civil rights organizations, and even the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), opposed this increase; and
WHEREAS, in a definite win for the NAACP, the Obama Administration ultimately decided to limit the line speed at 140 bpm except in the approximately twenty plants which had already gone to 175 bpm and the new inspection system; and
WHEREAS, in September 2017, the National Chicken Council petitioned the USDA to waive the existing bpm limit and allow all processing plants to operate "at any line speed"; and
WHEREAS, the NAACP again opposed this proposal, and we were thus pleased with the January 2018 decision by the USDA to keep the existing bpm limits; and
WHEREAS, serious concerns have also raised about the safety and healthfulness of birds which are processed using the higher speeds and the resulting dangerous and potentially unhealthy impact this increase may have on consumers; and
WHEREAS, there are also disturbing reports and grave concerns about the abusive handling, storage, and welfare of the animals; and
WHEREAS, in Oklahoma and other states, it has been reported that some judges offered defendants convicted of non-violent offenses the opportunity to go to "work farms" rather than prison in order to improve their "work ethic" and rehabilitate themselves from "addiction," regardless of their personal history with substance abuse; and
WHEREAS, these "work farms" provided laborers to poultry plants to work on processing lines where, if they were hurt or went too slowly, they were threatened with a return to the courts to be sentenced to prison; and
WHEREAS, if they went to the "work camp," they did not in fact receive treatment for drug addiction or other health afflictions. Instead, they provided free labor, and if they are unable to work, they are returned to court and sentenced to incarceration.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the NAACP opposes proposals which may prove dangerous to workers and consumers such as increasing poultry line processing speeds without a comprehensive assessment of the harms such increases could bring to bear, and supports a comprehensive protocol that would keep workers safe and protect against contamination that would threaten the health and safety of consumers; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED the NAACP supports genuine rehabilitation options for non-violent offenders in lieu of prison, and not judges steering defendants into programs that endanger the lives and safety of the men and women who are convicted which are implemented in a neo-slavery manner and which simply provide cheap labor to private industry; and
BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED that the NAACP calls for a thorough review of the impact of the line speed and the use of court-ordered "work farms" on 1) those sent to live at the facilities and working on the processing lines, 2) Americans consuming the processed fowl, and 3) the environmental impact of the discarded remains.