Poultry industry workers forced to urinate on the job, wear diapers – report

© Max Rossi
The poultry business is booming, but thousands of workers suffer inhumane treatment at processing plants, a shocking report says. Some of them, mocked and threatened, are forced to wear diapers or beg for bathroom breaks out of fear of losing their jobs.

The report, No Relief: Denial of Bathroom Breaks in the Poultry Industry is based on scores of interviews with poultry workers across the US, conducted between 2013 and 2016. It unveils brutal details and life-threatening conditions that hundreds of thousands of employees face every day. 

“Workers struggle to cope with this denial of a basic human need. They 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 it’s not just their dignity that suffers: they are in danger of serious health problems,” Oxfam America, the group that prepared the report, wrote.

Oxfam America has been struggling to draw attention to labor issues in the growing US poultry industry. Their research is part of a campaign launched in October last year to advocate for improved conditions for poultry workers.

According to the US Poultry & Egg Association, the value of broiler chicken production alone showed a six percent growth in 2014, bringing in $32.7 billion to the industry. During the same year, 188 million chickens were sold for $96.6 million, marking a growth of 10 percent.

However, workers behind the scenes hardly benefited from the increasing revenues. Instead, their labor conditions appeared to have worsened.

“Once a poultry plant roars to a start at the beginning of the day, it doesn’t stop until all the chickens are processed,” the report reads. “If one part stops, the whole line slows down.”

As a result, often poultry workers are denied a reasonable bathroom break. Some of them had to resort to wearing diapers at work, which not only keep them dry, but minimize humiliating interactions with supervisors.

“Our supervisor always makes fun of us. He says we eat too much so we go to the bathroom a lot,” Fern, who works at a Tyson plant in Arkansas, said.

In a lawsuit against a poultry company in Mississippi, women workers complained that their supervisor “charged them money for such things as using the bathroom.”

“I’m afraid of my supervisor. Each time I complain, she’s given me harder work. So I just stay quiet. If I go to human resources to complain, everything goes worse for me,” Rosario, who works at Case Farms in North Carolina, said.

It is female workers that are struck the hardest by such treatment as they also experience monthly menstruation and pregnancies.

Some workers reported that pregnant women had to wear diapers on the line more often than coworkers due to higher need to use a bathroom. Despite their special condition, expecting women were not given any indulgence.

“When I ask permission, I have to wait 15 minutes, half an hour, sometimes more… I hope I don’t have problems with my baby. I have only a month to go. I’ve had an infection in my urinary tract. It’s been much more difficult being pregnant,” María, an eight-month pregnant worker at the Case plant in North Carolina, said.

Besides harassment and punishment, poultry workers are constantly risking their health. According to a study cited in the report, not being able to use the bathroom when necessary results in pressure on the bladder and urethra, which can cause kidney damage, infection, and even death.