You thought Thanksgiving was about food and family, maybe Pilgrims and Indians, too? Here’s the bleak, Dickensian, even racist side of the holiday. I do wonder where unskilled workers are supposed to find jobs if they shouldn’t be working in places like turkey processing plants.
This Thanksgiving, let’s give a thought to the people who process turkeys
By David L. Ostendorf
We should know where our turkeys come from, and who processes them for us.
The turkeys piled into supermarket freezers carry their own stories. Raised primarily in massive confinement buildings by low-paid growers under contract to corporate food giants, they are genetically designed for plentiful breast meat to grace our Thanksgiving platters. They are then trucked to a processing plant, where they meet their demise.
Reflecting the racial structure of the nation’s entire food system, turkey processing relies largely on the hard labor of low-wage workers of color. On plant floors across the country, a predominantly black, Latino and Asian work force kills, guts, cleans, processes and packages the Thanksgiving centerpiece along fast-moving production lines.
Injuries are commonplace. Thousands of individual repetitive motions every shift raise the probability of chronic pain for line workers.
Federal safety inspectors are spread thin, and when they do arrive it is not unusual for supervisors to silence workers. At a recent meeting of Somali immigrants with an Occupational Safety and Health Administration representative, workers were shocked to learn that they had the right to speak when an inspector came to their workplace.