Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Instilling Fear in Poultry Processing Workers

It's one of the most effective tools poultry processors have used over the past 6 decades or so to keep workers "docile," willing to accept less, afraid to ask for more. One such scenario is playing out with the Pilgrim's Pride Plant in El Dorado, Arkansas right now. It seems a textbook case. How it's unfolding from my perspective:

Step One: While suffering from the closure of seven sites, realize that the silver lining in this cloud might be newfound leverage to use over historically vulnerable black employees and newly vulnerable Latin@ employees who are afraid of losing their jobs.

Step Two: Further intimidate your immigrant employees, who's labor you rely upon heavily, by turning many of them into ICE.

Step Three: Go to your employees, tell them that their jobs are in danger because their work is substandard and that the plant might close... unless, of course, they improve immediately. Use phrases like,"There isn't much time" and "We have to see significant and immediate changes,"* to heighten anxiety and the sense of urgency. In simple terms, you tell them work harder, produce more, and you might keep your jobs--this, in an industry in which work speed is already inhumane.**

Step Four: Plan to have "discussions" with the United Food and Commercial Workers local, a local for which many employees express distrust and the sense that the union is on the side of the company.

Step Five: Hold a meeting at which you have employees sign a blank piece of paper that is to serve as a loyalty oath of some kind. Have supervisors walk around collecting the papers, while talking about faxing them to corporate headquarters. Leave employees to wonder what the ramifications are if their names are not on that paper. (Recently, employees of the plant told me that their supervisors asked them if they were dedicated to their jobs. If they were, they could indicate that by signing a blank piece of paper. Some employees refused, uncomfortable with placing their signature on a page with nothing else.)

Step Six: Cut an hour of the work day, an ominous sign.

Step Seven: And now that other plants have been closed, employees have been arrested, and hours have been cut, have the union present the first set of results of the "discussions" to your worried workforce (Keep in mind that the Union and the plant only recently negotiated a new agreement):
  1. Elimination of paid rest periods. Employees currently have two 10-minute and one 45-minute break, for which they are paid. They are being asked to agree to two 30-minute non-paid rest periods.
  2. Holiday Pay. Employees currently are paid double-time if they work on a holiday. They are being asked to accept time-and-a-half instead.
  3. Insurance Costs. Currently, Employee insurance contribution is 20 percent of total cost. On 1 January 2009, that would go up to 25 percent.
And of course, once they refused to accept these terms, they were warned over and over that the alternative was no job at all. I talked to my mom about it and she's sick of the worry and fear. Tonight she told me she wished, "if they're going to close it, they'd just close it, or stop talking about it!" ***
*There was a much more detailed article in the Houston Chronicle but it's no longer available. I even searched the archives. I'd saved a copy to MS Word, but dang, I wish it still existed.
**Plus, the onus is upon the employees--if the plant closes it becomes primarily "their fault" for not working harder, instead of the result of all the other factors (feed and fuel costs) that Pilgrim's Pride cites.
***I recognize that times are difficult right now, but you have to understand my skepticism as someone who's watched family members work in this plant for over two decades and has heard the threat of closure over and over.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

That's harsh, but unfortunately, it's also not unusual. It sounds like your mom has reached the point where she's drawn her line--the job's not good enough to do it for less than what she's getting, and when it gets to that point for enough people, the company will have to make good on its threat.

Revelations and ruminations from one southern sistorian...