Upton Sinclair where art thou? The job of the muckraker responsible for the bane of high school literature students everywhere, The Jungle, has created more vegetarians than famous vegetarians from Gandhi to Pamela Anderson combined apparently is not yet finished. After the 1906 publication of The Jungle, a disgusted public offended at the thought of eating a line worker as part of their potted meat began to clamor for safer food and safer working conditions.
Many years and many pieces of legislation later, if the statistics can be trusted, it would seem like the more things change in the meat packing industry the more they stay the same. During the 1970 creation of the Occupational ...view middle of the document...
These recommendations include: new federal and state laws to reduce production line speeds; stronger state regulations to halt underreporting of injuries; stronger worker compensation laws; stricter enforcement of anti-retaliation laws; U.S. labor law compliance with international standards on workers' freedom of association; and new laws ensuring workers' safety regardless of their immigration status.
The existence of existing laws and regulations that address the same areas as the Human Rights Watch report begs the question if these recommendations are worthy of support.
Denial of Problem and Recommendations
As can be expected, the meat packers deny the Human Rights Watch claims and see no need for further regulation. The American Meat Institute’s J. Patrick Boyle said it would take as many pages to dispute the falsehoods in the report as the report itself. Boyle goes on to cite statistics showing a consistent decline in the number rate of injuries and illnesses in the industry. However, for all of Boyle’s protestations, Horowitz (2008) points to reasons other than safety improvements for the decline in the injury rates. He notes that beginning in the 1990’s packers began keeping injured workers on the job there by reducing the reported injury rates and the accompanying worker’s compensations claims. Horowitz (2008) also cites a change in the Bureau of Labor Statistics record keeping methods that no longer track the most common meatpacking line injuries as causing the government data to drastically under-report meatpacking work related injuries.
The meatpackers try to claim that the Human Rights Watch report is inaccurate and should be discounted because the writer’s implied having first had knowledge of the conditions in plants they had not visited. While this may be a somewhat good point, it loses its validity in light of other similar reports. A 2008 report as cited by the Lincoln Journal Star noted that “production line speed remains brutally high and might even be increasing”; “455 workers in five communities a story of hazardous workplaces and unrelenting line speed”; Sixty-two percent of workers who responded to the survey reported they had been injured in the previous year…” (Walton, 2009).
Meatpacking companies like to point to existing regulations and standards as proof that the Human Watch Rights recommendations are not needed. Yet the 1999 Sparks reports tells us that meatpacking injuries from repeated trauma were 75 times that of industry as a whole. Settlement agreements with the meatpacking companies called for programs to use an ergonomic approach to redesign job, workstations and tooling, to limit workers’ exposure to cumulative trauma disorders. About this same time, the state of Nebraska, home to some of the plants mentioned in the Human Rights Watch report, passed a bill of rights for meatpacking workers (Walton, 2009). This bill delineated workers’ rights, including the right to organize through union...