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Behind the scenes of the fight for the protection of animals and workers and the preservation of the environment - my experiences as a Tyson slaughterhouse hanger/killer turned activist. Exposing the evils of factory farming, by Virgil Butler. If you have arrived here looking for the Tyson stories, view the early archives. Some of them are now featured on the sidebar for easy searching.
Saturday, October 11, 2003
that revolves around the chicken plant.
Living in this little community of people is
almost like living in a different world with
a different set of rules and way of life.
First off, you have to consider the type of
people who would actually go to work at a
job like that. For probably 90% or more
of the people down there it was the last
choice. They would tell you that. "This is
my last choice."
So, you could rightly assume that we got
the misfits, for the most part. Of course,
there were a lot of people that were just
honest, hard-working people, they just had
little or no education and no other job skills.
In my case, (and there were others like me)
I had a reasonably good education because of
the courses I took in the Army, but I had very
few marketable job skills for the civilian world.
Most already have a challenging life before they
come to work there. Most have families with
kids at home. There are a lot of couples that
In all cases, we were there because we could
find nothing else that was steady. Tyson took
full advantage of that fact. They knew that.
They did the bare minimum that the state
required for preparing the new employees for
the first time on the line.
There wasn't a single department in that plant
that didn't push its workers to the very limits
of their endurance. New-hires could be seen
in the break room every night with little hand
weights, warming up.
Our turnover rate was phenomenal, but even
so, you would still see the same faces keep
coming back, sometimes several times. I made
it a point to not even try to learn someone's
name until they had been there at least three
The reason for that is because the physical
work load is extremely demanding and the stress
level is even worse. No matter how hard you
try and how fast you work, your supervisor is
going to try to push you to do more. If you
were like me, and had been there for years,
you had to do not only your job, but take up
the slack for the new-hires by doing parts of
theirs. For this extra work, I got absolutely
nothing. As a matter of fact, the average
plant worker makes $12,000-$16,000 a year,
if you make it a whole year without missing
any work due to illness or injury.
People got injured down there all the time.
There was rarely a week that went by that
somebody didn't get hauled off to the hospital
for an accident of some sort. There was a
steady stream of people through the nurse's
station with carpal tunnel, tendinitis, repetitive
motion disorder, cuts, burns, abrasions,
bruises, etc. Certain conditions common to
back dock were getting "galded" (burned from
the ammonia on the chickens), "blood rash"
or "chicken rash" (looks like poison ivy and can
Different people handle the stress in different ways.
The most common thing was substance abuse.
All of the hangers took some sort of stimulant -
every one. Not all of them opted for the illegal
kind, but all took something, including me. Those
of us who stood clear of the illegal stuff, took
ephedrine HCl (mini-thins). This was about the only
way to be able to keep up the kind of pace we were
required to work at nonstop. In addition to the
stimulants at work, most used something to relax
and unwind at home. I drank, mostly.
Of course, this type of lifestyle added to the high
number of workers having troubles with the law.
It seemed like night shift got the larger share of
that. It was not uncommon to see a sheriff's car
down there with somebody in the back seat at
startup time. I saw more than one drug bust
happen in the parking lot, too.
It was not uncommon to have physical fights
between the workers. I have seen a few fights
break out in the break room, but usually those
were not too serious. There were a couple that
happened in the parking lot over the years that
did get serious.
One guy hit another guy in the head with a
bumper jack one time. Another time one guy
cut another guy with a beer bottle. I don't for
sure, but I heard a rumor that both of those were
over someone owing someone else for dope.
There was a lot of violence at home for these
people, too. It wasn't uncommon to come to work
and find out someone was in jail for beating his
wife/girlfriend up or to hear about DHS taking
There was always the big immigration roundup
every year. We used to call it "The Rodeo." I
used to wonder what it would be like to be sitting
in a helicopter over the plant when INS comes to
do a raid. Illegals go running out all doors of the
plant and they have to try to round them all up.
That would usually take about 3-4 hours.
It was obvious to me that Tyson knew they were
hiring illegals. I just think it is impossible to have
that many "accidents" year after year.
The little community of people pretty much stick
together and don't associate with too many people
who don't work there because there is so much
talk and complaint of the working conditions down
there. Most of the time when people would all
gather together to hang out the conversation
would inevitably come around to problems at the
plant. These problems bled over into everyday
life for these people.
You had to develop an uncaring attitude to work
there and be able to do the job, It was impossible
to just turn it on when you worked at the plant
and off when you walked out the door. I became
ashamed of what I did and what happened down
there. I wouldn't even tell my wife because it was
so upsetting and horrible. I didn't want anyone to
know about it and look down on me for it.
Pretty soon it gets to where the only people it is
easy to hang around with and associate with are
other plant workers who share the same experiences
and can therefore understand. Tyson fosters this
sense of community by holding little get-together
for the employees. You get sucked into this little
world and it is very hard to get out. Before you
know it, you life is shit and you lose hope of it ever
being able to change for the better. No one has hope.
Sometimes I look back and wonder how I could have
lived that way for so long. I look at where I am today
and how much my life has changed and I am amazed
that, not only did I make it through all that, I escaped
it and came out the other side a better person. It
gives me hope to think that if I can change so much
in such a relatively short time, others can, too.
Factory farming makes victims of everyone it touches,
except for those at the top making all the money.
The animals raised are raised and slaughtered in very
inhumane ways. The workers are exploited and their
lives ruined. Many consumers (thousands every year)
are made sick, some fatally, by the contaminated meat
sold to them by the industry. Strains of resistant
bacteria and viruses are grown and spread through
overuse of antibiotics, and growth hormones taint
the meat and cause deformities. The environment gets
trashed. We are all victims in some way.
Why do we continue to let this go on this way?
There are other choices. Many other choices.