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Poultry Workers Need Longer Bathroom Breaks, Report Claims

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By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on May 16, 2016 3:57 PM

You care if your chickens roam free and get healthy feed, whether the meat is organic or not. So probably you also care about poultry workers and the conditions in which they work, which are reportedly not great. According to Oxfam America, poultry workers routinely complain of insufficient bathroom breaks and some say that they wear diapers on the job to deal with the problem.

Having adequate bathroom breaks is written into the law, and it's not optional for employers to allow them. So what's going on in the poultry industry?

Production Stresses

The Oxfam report on American poultry workers is alarming not only for its alleged labor law violations but for the questions it raises about meat production conditions. Does it matter if the factory follows all hygiene requirements yet the workers must relieve themselves on the line?

The stresses of the production line, according to the report, create a situation in which workers must sometimes wait an hour to be released to urinate. Plus, poultry workers have to wear special gear and their breaks are often not long enough to allow them to reach and use the bathroom, given the cumbersome clothing.

Potential Dangers

Apart from alerting us to the disconcerting conditions in which some work, the Oxfam report signals potential health dangers for meat consumers. "People would be shocked to know that their chicken is organic and antibiotic-free, but that the workers who handle the chicken were compelled to soil themselves or wear diapers in order to keep their job," said Debbie Berkowitz, a senior fellow at the National Employment Law Project.

She spoke to the Huffington Post and said that poultry workers she meets mention the bathroom break problem first and often. According to Oxfam, which heard the stories of "dozens of workers," it found that in facilities in two states 80 percent of workers or more said bathroom breaks were not always granted when requested.

Major chicken producers Tyson and Perdue, as well as the National Chicken Council, a lobbying group, all expressed opposition to the claims. In a statement responding to the report, the group said, "We believe such instances are extremely rare and that US poultry companies work hard to prevent them."

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