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Fast Food Nation

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Maltreatment of Slaughterhouse Workers

In the book Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser talks about the working conditions of fast food meat slaughterhouses. In the chapter "The Most Dangerous Job," one of the workers, who despised his job, gave Schlosser an opportunity to walk through a slaughterhouse. As the author was progressed backwards through the slaughterhouse, he noticed how all the workers were sitting very close to each other with steel protective vests and knives. The workers were mainly young Latina women, who worked swiftly, accurately, while trying not to fall behind. Eric Schlosser explains how working in the slaughterhouses is the most dangerous profession - these poor working conditions and horrible treatment of employees in the plants are beyond comprehension to what we see in modern everyday jobs, a lifestyle most of us take for granted.

Schlosser talks about how meatpacking is the most dangerous job in the United States. He says "The injury rate in a slaughterhouse is about three times higher than the rate of a typical American Factory" (172). Every year more than forty thousand meat packing workers get injured (beyond first aid) in the US alone. That is a lot of people getting hurt for just doing their jobs. Some of the injuries that get reported are fatal, but "thousands of additional injuries and illnesses most likely go unrecorded" (172). The workers who apply for such jobs tend to be illegal immigrants who try to earn some money to send back home to their families. Because these immigrants do not "exist", there would be no problem if one might get into an accident and die.

In the section titled "The Worst" in chapter 8, Schlosser writes, "Some of the most dangerous jobs in meatpacking slaughterhouses are performed by late night cleaning crews" (176). Most of these workers earn only one third the wages of regular production employees. The working conditions are horrid. The cleaners use a cleaning agent that is a mixture of water and chlorine, which reduces the visibility of the plants with "a thick, heavy fog" (177). There is nothing worse than not being able to breathe and working hard for ridiculous pay. The late night workers have to clean when the machines in the plants are still running. Workers have to dispose of the leftover junk in the plant consisting of "grease, fat, manure, leftover scraps of meat" (177). To make matters worse, while spraying the cleaning agent, the plant starts to heat up to temperatures above 100 degrees. With the dense fog and high temperature, accidents occur quite easily - death rates among slaughterhouse sanitation workers are very high and "official statistics are not kept" (178). Horrible accidents occur where people lose body parts such as arms, hands or fingers. If that wasn't bad enough sometimes they may lose their heads on the machines. In one case, a few workers tried to clean out a blood-collection tank, only to be suffocated by hydrogen sulfide fumes.

Ever since immigrants started replacing workers in slaughterhouses, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) was formed. This organization is to enforce the health and safety laws by visiting the slaughterhouses once every eight years. I think that outrageous considering accidents happen every day. "The death of a worker on the job was punished with a fine of just a few hundred dollars..." (179). Workers with fatal injuries were told to come the next day to work and do easy jobs, in order to cover up the injuries so that nobody was missing that day. This organization never achieved its purpose, however it made people think that they would be more safe.

Profit margins for slaughterhouses are very low. The faster the workers perform, the more profit comes in. If a person gets injured, the production line slows down with huge losses of profit. "The annual bonuses of plant foreman and supervisors are often based in part of the injury rate of their workers. Instead of creating a safer workplace, bonus schemes encourage slaughterhouse managers to make sure those accidents and injuries go unreported..." (174). I think that this is unfair treatment against workers because they cannot get the full attention they require. "If a worker agrees not to report an injury, a supervisor will shift him or her to an easier job for a while... " (175). If a worker does not agree to keep his injuries quiet and decides to report them, supervisors could lower their pay and make the worker want to quit his or her job. Health insurance is almost non-existent. Slaughterhouse owners tried their hardest to use every little method to get away from having to offer insurance for workers. I believe that this type of treatment of workers is inappropriate.

The job of a supervisor in a slaughterhouse isn't as glamorous as many people think. They "must meet production goals, keep the number of recorded injuries low, and most importantly, keep the meat flowing down the line

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