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No relief for Alabama’s poultry workers

Workers in Alabama’s poultry industry are routinely denied bathroom breaks, and the problem appears to extend far beyond state borders. According to The Guardian, workers at a major Guntersville, Alabama, poultry plant were forced to risk their own health and safety in order to maximize efficiency and production. Furthermore, the dangerous working conditions at poultry plants have been largely underreported, due, at least in part, to the fact that so many workers in the industry are undocumented.

A worker’s undocumented status means he or she is far less likely to blow the whistle on workplace problems. A recent report from the Southern Poverty Law Center further shines a spotlight on the poor working conditions at Alabama and the nation’s poultry plants, where employers regularly deny employees time to visit restrooms as a means of increasing output. The problem is so pronounced in Alabama that, of 300 workers in the state who were surveyed, all but about 20 percent reported they had been forbidden to take a bathroom break.

Also contributing to the problem, per the Washington Post, is the poultry industry’s desire to increase profits exponentially with little regard for worker safety. Some workers report defecating or urinating while on the production line, or refusing to drink liquids so that they will not need to take a break and risk their jobs. Even so, lobbyists in the industry are trying to make changes so that plants can produce 35 more birds a minute than they do currently.

Though the Occupational Health and Safety Administration enacted guidelines in 1998 to mandate that employers allow their workers to visit the bathroom when the need arises, this does not appear to be in practice at many poultry plants. Extra workers are supposed to be available to replace workers who need a restroom break so that output does not suffer, but many workers report waiting hours for replacements to come through, if they appear at all. 

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