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Mississippi Poultry Factory Workers Rally

21 March 2014

US - Two workers’ advocacy organizations and their supporters promised on 19 March to try again next session on a bill that would have expanded what they call basic rights for those employed by the state’s poultry industry.

Senate Bill 2668 died Feb. 4 in the Senate Agriculture Committee. It would have put into state law requirements that workers get access to adequate restroom facilities and regular breaks from the repetitive motions used to process chickens, reports the Clarion Ledger.

The legislation also would have required employers to establish a committee made up of company representatives and a minimum of three employees to address health and safety concerns.

“Poultry workers around Mississippi are being treated just like the birds,” Sen. Kenny Wayne Jones, D-Canton, said at a news conference at the Capitol. Jones authored SB 2668.

Lee Pearl Duff’s son, Ronnie Lee, was killed in 2012 at Southern Hens in Moselle, when he fell into an auger.

“It was then that I decided to do anything I could to show that the poultry industry does not care for its workers,” she said.

The Mississippi Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and the Coalition of Poultry Workers also oppose a regulation proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that would increase from 140 to 175 the number of chickens workers process in one minute.

That would lead to more on-the-job injuries, said George Barlow, president of the workers coalition. He said he and other officials from the organization recently went to D.C. to voice their opposition.

“We wanted to make sure these people were heard,” he said.

In a white paper last year, the U.S. Poultry and Egg Council refuted similar claims made by poultry workers in Alabama. The paper cited figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2012 that showed 4.9 percent of poultry workers as a whole suffered injury or illness. While that’s higher than the overall private sector (3.5 percent), it’s in line with the manufacturing industry as a whole.

The industry, the paper said, has spent 25 years developing ergonomic best practices for workers. In the last couple years, the industry has partnered with researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology to to assess musculoskeletal risks in poultry tasks. Equipment manufacturers have also improved safety mechanisms at the industry’s request, the paper said.

Mark Leggett, executive director of the Mississippi Poultry Association, said in a statement that the organization opposed SB2668 because it duplicated existing federal laws and regulations.

“We were not aware of any other state that has passed similar duplicative regulation on poultry companies,” he said.

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