Talking with workers in food plants, mostly where turkeys and hogs are processed, I hear many disturbing stories. Just a few months ago management at one of these plants fired a woman who had been working there for over six years because she was two minutes late to her desk. She was tardy because a company trailer was blocking the road and the entrance to the plant parking lot.
Most of these processing plants rate their employees on a point system in which each point received equals a tiny infraction. At many companies, workers can receive no more than ten points before they are fired.
If you are a as much as 30 seconds late then you get a point. If you get sick and have to call in, you get a point. Even if you have time off approved by your supervisor you have to call in that day anyway; if you don’t you will get 2 points. I’ve work in enough places to know that these companies are too rigorous with their policies when it comes to attendance. One would think that after six years of being with the same company you wouldn’t have to be at the mercy of a petty point system anymore.
Workers talk to me about how these point systems are another stressful factor amid the many that accompany dangerous, low-wage work. Just think, a three day illness translates to the possibility of six points.
Aside from the flat out unfairness of this system, there is the very practical concern that it encourages sick and contagious workers to report to work. Not exactly the ideal condition to handle food. Because of the point system and fear over losing their jobs, they work even if they are sick. These plants are so punitive with their policies that they are putting workers and our food at risk.
We need to strengthen our food safety regulations. If we don’t, the quality of our food becomes more dangerous. As consumers we have an obligation to hold these companies accountable and we need to let them know that we will not allow them to put us at risk. If you are eating a turkey this holiday, take some time to think about workers and the strenuous regulations under which they struggle. These workers are our first line of defense against getting ill from food.