U.S. Poultry Workers Humiliated Because They’re Denied Bathroom Breaks

Workers at some poultry plants are denied breaks to increase efficiency with some horrible results.

A new report by Oxfam America charges that some of the largest poultry producers in the United States don’t allow their employees time to take bathroom breaks. The result is that workers have taken to wearing diapers while working on the processing line.

According to the report, unnamed workers from Tyson Foods Inc., Pilgrim’s Pride Corp., Perdue Farms Inc. and Sanderson Farms Inc. claim supervisors have mocked them, ignored their requests and threatened punishment or termination – just for needing a bathroom break. When workers have been permitted to relieve themselves, some have been given a time limit of ten minutes. Workers have experienced the humiliation of urinating and defecating themselves because they are unable to hold it in. Others have felt forced to “restrict intake of liquids and fluids to dangerous degrees,” Oxfam said.

“It’s not just their dignity that suffers: they are in danger of serious health problems,” said Oxfam America, the U.S. arm of the U.K.-based global development group.

Poor working conditions present unique difficulties for women, especially those who are pregnant or menstruating. Urinary tract infections can be a painful result of holding it in. The report states that managers have advised workers to eat and drink less in an effort to avoid having to go to the bathroom.

An e-mail statement from Tyson said that it does “not tolerate the refusal of requests to use the restroom.” Perdue said in an e-mailed response that the “anecdotes reported are not consistent” with the company’s policies and practices, and in an e-mail statement from Pilgrim’s Pride said, “any allegations of the nature claimed by Oxfam, if proven, would be clear violations of company policy and would result in disciplinary action.”

“We value our team members and treat them with respect,” according to an e-mailed statement from Tyson. The company is “concerned about these anonymous claims, and while we currently have no evidence they’re true, are checking to make sure our position on restroom breaks is being followed and our team members’ needs are being met,” according to the statement.

A statement from Perdue said, “Regarding bathroom breaks, our associates receive two 30-minutes breaks during each eight-hour shift. If an associate is unable to wait for the scheduled break and needs to use the restroom, they are to be given permission to leave the line as soon as someone can cover for them.”

Pilgrim’s Pride released a statement saying, “Bathroom breaks have not been raised as an issue in any of our internal team member satisfaction surveys, nor in the results of our third-party-conducted sustainable safety culture surveys,” said. Team member health and safety is an integral part of our sustainability commitment, fundamental to who we are as proud members of American agriculture, and a priority for our more than 37,000 team members.”

According to a joint statement by the National Chicken Council and the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association, the anecdotes in the Oxfam report don’t represent the whole industry, “We’re troubled by these claims, but also question this group’s efforts to paint the whole industry with a broad brush based on a handful of anonymous claims. We believe such instances are extremely rare and that U.S. poultry companies work hard to prevent them.”

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Kimberley A. Johnson (BIO) is the author of AMERICAN WOMAN: The Poll Dance & The Virgin Diaries and an activist for women’s rights. Like her on Facebook, Twitter or follow her on FB
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