Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Labor and Industry
Safety and Health Codes Board
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6/22/20  7:07 pm
Commenter: Erica Cavanagh

Protect Poultry Workers

Dear Legislators,

The poultry workers, in both the processing plants and in the growing facilities, which are under contract with large poultry industries, work at great peril to their health. Within the poultry houses where chickens and turkeys are grown, which I have visited, the ammonia concentrations, from their urine, are far above a non-toxic level. The potency scars the lungs of the workers who work within them.

I have also visited two poultry processing plants within my town, Harrisonburg. Though I have not been inside the factory floors, where the chickens and turkeys move on a conveyor belt to be cut into parts--I'm not allowed into these spaces--I have, on several occasions, translated for African refugees in the HR offices of these plants. They have been treated with racism. Out of wanting to protect the identities of poultry workers, I'm not comfortable with speaking about specific cases publicly, but would be happy to answer follow-up questions. For now, I'll offer two general observations: 1) The health insurance the factories offer is a la carte. They nickel and dime the workers for every single thing they might want covered when they choose a plan. I know because I've translated during phone calls with health care insurance agencies. The plans offer very little unless you want to pay a lot. Even if a worker signs on to a bare-bones plans, that minimal coverage takes a significant amount of the worker's paycheck. 2) Individuals who work at poultry processing plants often suffer from repetitive motion injuries. This is well documented, and I've witnessed the pain of this type if injury in those for whom I've translated. And these are not older individuals, but workers as young as twenty-two. 

What I hope to highlight through my comments is that poultry workers are highly vulnerable. We give them almost no net of safety, and what we do offer, in terms of healthcare, is thin and expensive. They deserve so much better. The companies they work for have huge profit margins and they can afford to both pay their workers more and to give them better health insurance options at better prices. 

Health insurance is always important. It feels especially important now during the pandemic. 
Please protect them from this pandemic by insisting on protective gear that the company pays for, not the workers. Prior to the pandemic, I saw workers' paychecks, specifically, the deductions for the cost of protective gear. They should not have to pay to protect themselves from a dangerous job. Their employers should pay. Even beyond this pandemic, that needs to change. Workers should never have to pay for their protective gear. The company makes a profit off of their labor. They have the funds and the obligation to prevent any harm that could come to their workers.

CommentID: 83355