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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.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Discrimination at Tyson 

I read another article recently that I thought
I might comment on. There is a woman that
worked for Tyson at the plant in Van Buren,
Arkansas that is suing the company. She is
claiming that she was discriminated against.

According to the article, Veronica Hernandez

--alleges she was fired in retaliation for
complaining to management about her work

--is seeking reinstatement to her job as a clerk
in the human resources department at the Van
Buren plant

--is asking for back pay, damages and attorney’s

--seeks reimbursement for medical expenses she
said she incurred from stress related to

She is doing this for this list of reasons:

--contends that, while employed at the plant
from December 1998 to May 2000, she was
subjected to derogatory remarks and jokes
concerning Hispanics

--was told not to have conversations in Spanish
with Spanish-speaking colleagues

--alleges the company measured her time off
work differently than it did other employees’

--was terminated shortly after she filed an
internal complaint against her supervisor and
that was the reason for her firing

What does Tyson have to say? Predictably,
the same thing they said when others have
had any complaints, including me:

Ed Nicholson of Tyson said employees have
several ways to air concerns about discrimination
in the work place, including a toll-free hotline.

Yeah, the old hotline. I told you about that and
how useless it was. All that hotline is good for
is getting you fired. And we all know how big a
liar ol' Ed is anyway. This is a perfect example.

I will tell you a story that this article reminded me
of and let you decide for yourself what the true
situation is regarding this issue.

There was a Chicano woman, a first-generation
Mexican-American born here from immigrant
parents. I will call her "Suzy" because I don't
know if she would want me to reveal her name
or not. She is basically innocent and I wouldn't
want to drag her into anything.

Unlike many plant people, she had a college
degree and went straight onto the floor as
a supervisor in debone.

It wasn't long before she got into an argument
with the plant night-shift superintendent over
her desire to promote another Mexican person
that she felt deserved the job. Well, it wasn't
long after that before she was transferred to
being back dock supervisor. They started
making things real rough on her. They would
put demands on her that were impossible for
our crew to meet. They were trying to drive
her out.

At the time, we were running with 3 new-
hires. Of the rest of the people on the line,
only 2 of us, Tony and I, were actually
experienced hangers. Everybody else was
either a deboner or a new-hire.

We were running really fast. Tony went
and looked, came back and told me that we
were running over 188 shackles per minute
because there had been too many empty
shackles going out. If you have been reading
for awhile, you will remember that the more
experienced workers (like poor Tony and I)
were expected to hang not just our 1/7 of
the line, but also catch the empty shackles
that the less experienced people couldn't
catch. Unfair, but true (with no extra pay).

One of us would run the belt to take the time
to rest (hah!) and only hang our 1/7 of the
line, while the other would try to catch as
many empty shackles and one-leggers as
we could. We would switch off periodically
to give each other breaks.

The point is, this was already going on when
they transferred "Suzy" back there. The
supervisor before her hadn't really gotten
in much trouble over it because this kind of
thing is expected under these conditions.
Training new-hires takes about 2-3 weeks.
(Not that there is much training involved.
You just catch their empty shackles until
they get it or they don't.)

Anyway, when Suzy came back there (under
these same conditions) the shift superintendent
told her "keep that line full or it will be your ass."
I heard him say it with my own ears. I was
outside the door and just walked away, not
letting anyone know I heard anything because
I knew what was about to happen. She was
going to crack down on the entire crew.

When I was running the belt one time that
night, we were having trouble with a bunch
of bent cages out on the dump. When the
cages are bent, the rollers won't pull them up
right. The cages will get sideways on the
dump get hung up, so you have to go
out there and push them back over on to
the tracks so that the rollers can pull them
on up to the dumper arms. Then the arms
tilt the cage over and spill the birds on the
belt. The machines are timed so that the
cages will arrive just as the belt needs them.
When its timing gets off, you get behind.

She came in and put this piece of metal on
the belt so that the chickens wouldn't spill
out onto the floor and told me to just hold
the belt down and pack them. When you
do that, though, it just smothers them by
the dozens.

I grabbed the piece of metal and threw it
back on the floor, explaining that it would
pack the birds so tight that you would literally
pull their legs and wings off, trying to pull
them out of the pile. I further told her that
it was not only cruel, but would not get the
job done any faster than it was being done.

You simply can't make someone do something
they don't know how to do yet. Not to mention
that they were having to try to do it with faulty

Well, she got mad at me and wrote me up for
talking back to her, but I felt so sorry for her
that I couldn't even get mad at her. I knew
she was desperate to do what she had to do
to try to keep her job. I also knew she was
wasting her time. Once Tyson decides to get
rid of you, they will find a way. There are
infinite technicalities and obscure policies that
no one has ever heard of that just get pulled
out when they are needed for such times.
That's what they did to me, too.

I think she lasted only a few weeks after
that. I don't know what happened. We just
showed up one night and she didn't. I have
never heard anything about her since.

During this few weeks, though, her life was
made hell. I heard some of the other super-
visors say "that wetback supervisor on back
dock ain't gonna be there much longer.
Somebody's gonna have to fill that hole."
This was in a discussion over wondering who
going to get stuck back there next, but it is
the attitude that is the problem - the use of
the racial and ethnic slurs they use down there
to talk about this group of workers.

To them, the Hispanic people are just fine as
long as they stay on the line. It is when they
try to do something above that that they
start having problems.

During the time I worked down there, I got
to know quite a few of the Hispanic people
very well. Well enough that I married to a
Mexican woman for awhile. I got to know
about the problems between them and
management from their side of it. They had
it even worse than us poor white people.

If you couldn't speak English, you couldn't
move up into supervisor or utility jobs.
Tyson says that their policy on promotions
is that the most senior person gets the
promotion. That's their policy.

But, I saw one instance in particular,
where one Mexican guy that had been
working there for about 7 years put in for
a utility job that came open in his department.
He was turned down in favor of a white guy
that had been there for less than a year.
The Mexican guy quit and went to work
down at Pilgrim's Pride after that.

That's just once instance. I have seen this
happen multiple times. I have also heard
probably some of the same jokes Veronica
has heard. Many ethnic jokes were told
around there.

I also remember once that we were having a
meeting in the main break room of the
entire shift. They called it because of some
changes in our benefits. Usually, when we
had these meetings, the Mexicans would
all congregate together so that the ones
that could not speak English would have
another translate for them. This was their
only way to know what was going on.

Every time the translator would start to
talk to translate for the group, this one
new young white supervisor would start
snickering and giggling, pointing at them,
and making a gobbling noise like a turkey.
It was obvious he was making fun of them.
Nobody said a word to him about it, even
though upper management was there and
had to hear the whole thing. It was too
obvious to ignore. I was halfway across
the room from him and I heard it.

There were some Mexican girls that were
obviously illegals and underage. They put
all four of them on washout/cleanout.
When everybody else on evisceration line
would go on break, these girls had to stay
there until all the chickens at their station
were done, no matter how piled up they
were. Sometimes this meant no break.
This was obvious to me because I passed
them on my break and they would still be
working. I could see them through the
window in the door that led to front-line.
They would still be working all the way
through their break as I was going back
from my own.

The thing is that these girls were the only
ones Tyson treated that way. When it
had been white women on that station,
they went to break when everyone else
went to break. Of course, this led to
some chickens being tagged by the USDA
for having been laying there too long or
piling up until they fell on the floor.

It was costing Tyson money because these
chickens had already been past the counter
I told you about. Before that counter, they
are the farmer's loss. After they pass the
counter, Tyson bought them. That is why
they stuck these Mexican girls over there
and told them that. They were illegal new-
hires that didn't know any better.

The worst thing about this is that they
probably didn't even get paid for that time.
If you work through your break, you have
to have your supervisor type it in manually
for the computer to take it. Otherwise, the
computer assumes you had two 30-minute
breaks a night and deducts that from your
total time. I'm sure no one bothered to
tell those girls about that.

There was a fire in the generator room one
night. It turned out not to be much of
anything at all, but we didn't know that at
the time. The fire alarm went off, and we
thought it was a real live fire. This was
about a week after 9/11, so we were still
kinda jumpy down there.

Everybody made it out, except for a guy
named Miguel. Unbeknownst to us, he
was in there putting out the fire with a
fire extinguisher. When somebody asked,
"Where's Miguel?" out in the parking lot,
one of the supervisors said, "He's just
a f*cking wetback. Who really cares?"

One of my friends commented on how low
that guy should feel for saying that while that
guy was in there putting the fire out and
saving the place.

If I sat here and thought about it, I am sure
I could come up with many more such
examples of blatant discrimination at Tyson,
but this post is getting awfully long, so I
will end it now.
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