<$BlogRSDUrl$> The Cyberactivist

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.

Friday, February 27, 2004

More Hog-Dog Rodeos 

I was quite happy to read that these horrible hog-dog rodeo events were shut down in Alabama and the promoter, Johnny Hayes, arrested for animal cruelty. The NBC station that first reported on this appalling situation and provided the video documenting this cruelty reports that they have received more calls and e-mails about their hog dog investigation than they have for any other story in the last ten years. That is wonderful news! I am so glad that there were so many caring people that responded and took action on this issue. Good for you!

Unfortunately, this sort of event still happens in Georgia, according to the alert I read this morning in my inbox. I'll be a little lazy this morning and copy and paste the info on that alert to save you some time in pulling it up yourself:

On February 24, our office reported the Hickory Crossing Bay Pen event to the Hart County Sheriff's Department. However, the department's investigators, obviously aware of the matter, seemed reluctant to investigate. One of their arguments for not intervening was that local hog-dog rodeo organizers were given an "exhibition permit" by the Georgia Department of Agriculture. Spokespersons for that agency claim that hogs "are only chased around" and are not physically assaulted by the dogs. Needless to say, we find it hard to believe that hog-dog rodeos in Hart County differ from other hog-dog rodeos across the country.

I find it hard to believe, too.

Please write to the Hart County Sheriff's Department and the Hart County district attorney, and ask that the hog-dog rodeo scheduled for this weekend be investigated and that violators of Georgia's anti-cruelty statute (which states that "a person commits the offense of cruelty to animals when he or she causes...unjustifiable pain or suffering to any animal by an act, an omission, or willful neglect") be arrested and prosecuted.

Here is the information you need to contact the officials responsible for shutting down this event. Please be polite and respectful in your requests for action. Rudeness and hate have no place in such correspondence.

Sheriff Mike Cleveland
Hart County Sheriff's Department
706-376-3114
706-376-2287 (fax)
sheriff@hartcom.net

The Honorable Robert W. Lavender
District Attorney
Hart County District Attorney's Office
706-376-3128
706-283-1716
706-376-1620 (fax)

It is amazing to most of the decent members of society that things like this go on in these rural areas. People certainly were shocked when I came out with my stories. They seemed to be unbelievable to some people. However, in many small towns across the country, things like this happen all the time. They have happened for years, even generations, mostly because no one outside of the area knew anything about it. The authorities don't get involved because things like this have been a part of an area for so long, not to mention the fact that, usually, prominent citizens with money and local power are involved in them. They profit from events like this, just like in the case of the cockfighting in Oklahoma I wrote about here a while back.

However, with the Internet bringing people together, it is becoming harder and harder for such atrocities to go on unnoticed anymore. People are waking up to the fact that animals are cruelly tortured for sport and "family fun" in many such small communities nationwide. They are shocked and outraged that members of a so-called decent and moral society are a part of such inhumane and viciously cruel mistreatment and abuse of animals. They are even more outraged when they find out that children are being brought up in such a way as to view such torture as "good, clean family fun."

Well, they are. It's a fact, as you have now found out.

Just as the other stories told on this site are a fact. They happened. They continue to happen every day. Just a quick look at the pictures of the chickens we rescued (and buried) over the last week or so show you that. Too many people just don't look at animals and see the soul shining out through their innocent, trusting eyes. They close their ears to the sounds of anguish and pain coming from the mouths of these animals as they suffer. They even defend such practices as "necessary." Necessary for what?

Necessary so that they can exploit the animal for the maximum profit, without any regard at all to how it may affect the animal? How very selfish that is!

Then, they argue that these things are "the way things are."

But, that doesn't mean they have to be that way. They are not necessary.

Mankind needs to make that next leap in evolution. We need to recognize the divine in all creatures - the spirit that breathes life into each physical form. The spirit that is stifled, trampled, snuffed out, and treated with disrespect every time a human mistreats an animal.

To do nothing about this when you hear of it, or see it happen before your very eyes, is to be a part of the problem, and thus guilty of inhumanity, cruelty, selfishness, and greed, yourself. To not care is callous and cold.

Look deep within yourself. What do you see there? Is there love, compassion, respect? Or is there hate, coldness, disrespect, even apathy?

What would you prefer to be inside you? What would you prefer to find in the heart of your child? Love or hate? Kindness or cruelty?

Each one of us makes that choice every day through our actions. Or our inactions. The mindset that allows this cruelty is wrong, but the one that enjoys it is clearly frightening to think about. But, we must. It's a duty. It is our responsibility as citizens of the world in which we live.

What sort of a life will such a child taught to enjoy these hog-dog rodeos grow up to have? How will viewing such an event as "fun" have on their outlook and perspective of the world? How will this affect their future actions?

Think on that for a moment. And, then think about it again. More deeply.

Now, take the appropriate action.

Become part of the solution - not the problem.

It only takes a minute to jot off an email or make a phone call. I even made it easy for you. The choice now is yours. But the future is theirs.

What kind of a future would you like to see?

And what are you willing to do to make it so?

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

And Yet Another Tyson Tragedy 

Well, once again, my mother-in-law has found a chicken in the road. Well, actually there were two of them, but one was already dead. She brought home one of them, though, because she was still alive. This one we don't really have any hope for, though. She looks way beyond saving, unfortunately. We are merely waiting for the vet to open so that we can go and have her suffering ended in a humane way.

She looks to have brain damage. She is sitting there in the box, just shaking and jerking. We had offered her water to see if she had enough muscle control to drink it, or any desire for it, but although she dipped her beak in there, she couldn't swallow. Upon further examination, I saw (during a brief time of her opening her eyes, either voluntarily or not - don't know for sure) that one eye was looking up and the other looking down. It was also quite obvious to me that she could not focus them on me, although she clearly knew that I was there. She is bleeding from her mouth and nostrils and possibly from her behind. I didn't pick her up to see, since I didn't want to hurt her further. I can tell that her rear end is raw, though.

As before, I have uploaded the pictures to the photo page for you to see. A warning to those that are easily upset, though. These pictures are quite graphic and bloody. They are worse than the last, actually - at least to me and Laura. It is extremely upsetting for me to see this, which is surprising given the number of chickens I have seen suffer and die over the years. I mean, I can see her brain! This needs to be stopped! NOW!!!

And, it could be so easily stopped. This is so damn unnecessary!!! She is only a baby, like the others. Only about 9 weeks old. Just a baby, even if she looks older due to their hormones and steroids they give them for "growth enhancement.".

If they would fix these cages, if the catchers would be more careful loading them, and/or if the cages were turned so that their doors held each other shut instead of facing the road off the back of the truck, they wouldn't be able to fall off the truck into the road like this. I suggested this very thing years ago to my supervisors down at Tyson. It never went any further than that. These babies' deaths, and the blood they shed for you, on our your hands, guys.

These are scenes that I saw for years. Scenes similar to this one were a common occurrence. These babies that we have found have only been found along one highway, but I am sure there are many others that we never see. These incidents have both happened on only one 20-mile stretch of highway. Also, when I last went to the vet with Hope and Faith, she told me that we weren't the first to bring in chickens that had fallen off a truck. It's good to know that we aren't the only ones that care around here. She has seen some of them make it and some of them not make it. But, this doesn't have to happen AT ALL!!! EVER!!!

For those that have been reading this blog from the beginning, you will remember that I discussed this very problem before when I told you about the problems with the cages. For those who have not read it yet, check out the early archives of this site. That is where most of the stories are of the worst things that I saw in my years down there, including my discussion of the problems with the broken cages and the injuries they cause.

Tyson - you questioned my credibility and truthfulness. Question this! Kind of hard to argue with a photo. Excuse me. Several photos. Of several birds. Pretty convincing evidence, if you ask me.

You keep dumping them off the trucks, and I'm going to keep on putting up pictures so that people can see just how cruel and callous you are.

How many more BABIES are you going to allow this to happen to?

How many more pictures do you want to see put up for the world to see?

It is up to you now. Quit torturing these birds, and I will leave you alone. You CAN stop it if you WANT to. You know it, and I know it. So, do it!!!

Until then, this will keep on happening. The ball is in your court now...

Excuse me, people, while I yet again go clean up another Tyson mess. I have an injured animal that needs some help. And then a grave to dig. Again...

But, I'll be back. You can count on it!
Posted by: # Virgil / 9:54 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Monday, February 23, 2004

R.I.P. Spot 

I just wanted to express my condolences to the Bush's for having to make the painful decision to euthanize their family dog, a springer spaniel named Spot. According to the article I read this morning, she had suffered a series of strokes, which had apparently left her without the ability to go on without suffering. She lived a long, and no doubt very pampered, life. Rest in peace, Spot.
Posted by: # Virgil / 9:51 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Hope and Faith 

**UPDATE**
Faith just died, too. I will write more about this later and let you all know what the vet had to say. Right now I need to go dig her grave. Thanks to everyone that tried to help these babies. At least they are not suffering any more. Let's try to do what we can to make sure this doesn't happen again.

**2nd UPDATE**
As promised, here is what happened at the vet:
She looked her over, gave her a shot of penicillin and everything, but she wasn't hopeful about her chances. She was encouraged to see a solid poop and by the fact that Faith was drinking a lot of water. She basically said that we were doing about all there was to do for her. She also gave us some stuff to clean out her wounds with. They were quite infected. The penicillin shot was enough for two days. If she made it that long, then we would have taken her back for another. She didn't, though, as you have probably already read above. She died later that day. But, at least we know that we did our best and that she was loved and treated with compassion at the end of her life. Hopefully people will identify with the plight of these babies and not be so quick to say things like, "They're just chickens." They are not. These were two babies who didn't deserve what happened to them. Please don't condone and support such cruelty when you make the decisions as to what to buy at the store to feed your families. There are many more Faiths and Hopes out there that are counting on you NOT to participate in the cruelty directed at them in the quest for profits by these factory farming corporations.

(This post is dedicated to the memory of Hope and Faith and to all the billions of others like her. Rest in peace, Hope and Faith. We love you.)

There has been a sad set of circumstances happen around here over the past couple of days. We are in mourning today over the loss of Hope. We will be burying Hope today with dignity and respect. Who or what is Hope, you ask? Well, let me tell you the story of Hope and Faith.

The night before last we brought home two extremely injured babies here. Hope and Faith are (or in the case of Hope, was) baby chickens that had fallen off a truck after being loaded. My mother-in-law found these two babies in the middle of the highway and rescued them, calling us to come get them and try to save them. There are pictures of their injuries on the photo page, but I have to warn you that they are quite graphic in nature, and therefore very upsetting to look at for those of us who love animals.

The sad thing is that they are just a small example of the cruelty that is inflicted daily on these birds, who are under no protection under the law. What happened to them was totally legal. Of course, as those who have read this blog from the beginning and read the earliest entries I wrote here of the horrific cruelty that happens know, the authorities around here are not very anxious to make a big deal out of the routine torture of chickens. In fact, I have never heard of anyone around here being held responsible and prosecuted for animal cruelty, except for one guy who had locked puppies in a hot car. At least they held him responsible for his actions. I have to commend the prosecutor for that much. I only wish he cared about chickens as much as he seems to about puppies.

They could have prosecuted the people responsible for the cruelties I have written about here if they had wanted to. The letters from caring people everywhere poured in, asking for the prosecutor and the sheriff to do something about the cruelty down at Tyson. But, sadly enough, they didn't. Perhaps that is why Hope and Faith were left to their cruel and undeserved fate. Perhaps that is why I am having to write this sad post today. Perhaps that is why Laura is sitting here with tears streaming down her face right now. Again...

This will keep on happening to innocent babies until enough people scream, "NO!!!!!" This sort of behavior needs to be stopped. And it needs to be stopped now. This didn't have to happen. Let me tell you a bit about Hope and Faith and the ordeal they have been put through at the hands of such an uncaring person (who, no doubt, will not be held responsible for his behavior, either).

If you have looked at the pics already, you can plainly see that there are deep gashes on these babies. From my experience at the plant seeing many chickens and their injuries, I can make a pretty good guess of how this happened. Let me explain.

It looks to me like these babies were slammed in the door of the cage as they were loaded on the truck. It appears that at least one of them - Hope - was picked up by her wing when she was loaded, also. It turned black from her body to the joint in her wing (what would be an elbow to you and me) through the day after the pictures were taken.

Catching is done at such a fast pace that many times the cage door is slammed on the last chicken to be loaded in the cage. Now, let me tell you a little bit about the way these cages are made and how this happens.

The doors are spring-loaded so that, at the point of being halfway closed, the spring will take over and slam the door shut and hold it closed. Most of the time, the last catcher to throw his chickens through the door will have to shove and pack them to get them all in there, as these cages are not very big, considering the number of chickens that are squashed inside there. This number can be anywhere from 15-21 chickens in each little door. There are 20 cages on a truck, each with about 300 birds per cage. Each cage has multiple doors.

Now, the chickens are packed in these cages so tightly that, many times, the only way for the catcher to get the door closed is to slam or kick it closed. Sometimes the chicken closest to the door will be slammed in the door, their body is hanging part of the way in and part of the way out. This is also assuming that the cage in not in a bad state of disrepair, which many are.

These cages are made of aluminum tubing with a steel frame, and the door is made out of thin aluminum. When these cages have been used awhile, they develop sharp edges and injure chickens as well as the catchers themselves. Sometimes, some of their springs won't work anymore. When that happens, the catcher will use a chicken to wedge it shut. They will purposely close a body part of the chicken in the door, usually a leg (although I have seen them shut the door on the middle of the body of one), to hold it shut. This works in much the same way as does putting a piece of cardboard in a door and shutting it on it hard to keep it closed when the latch fails.

Now, because of the number of years I worked in this industry, I have seen the injuries that are inflicted on the chickens when this happens. The injuries to Hope and Faith are consistent with the injuries I saw inflicted on birds that have been slammed in cage doors.

Now, Tyson may try to come back and dispute this, trying to convince people that the injuries to these birds occurred as they fell from the truck and hit the road. Not so. The bruising I saw - maybe. The deep gashes - certainly not. Most people know what road rash looks like. If you look at these pictures, you can plainly see that road rash is not what we are dealing with here. (I have high-resolution pics available upon request - only the low-res. are posted now becuase I have limited space allowed to me.)

Now, I will admit that I am no veterinarian, however, I have seen this many times before. If you are a vet and have seen such an injury, or you also conclude from looking at the pics supplied that I am correct or incorrect, feel free to contact me. I will be taking Faith to the vet this morning. I would have taken both of them yesterday, but I had no money to do that with at the time. Thanks to some caring people who sent out and responded to a plea for help yesterday, we do have some limited donated funds to pay for this now. We don't know yet if it will be enough, but we are taking her in anyway, and hope that others will also answer the call for help for this innocent baby. This is her only hope. (I will never say that word again without thinking of that poor baby chicken and what she suffered. I hope that you won't, either. There - said it again. Damn, this is hard!)

What upsets me the most is that quite a few people went to a lot of trouble to present indisputable evidence that there was horrific cruelty, even torture, going on at Tyson, but there was nothing done about it. The authorities didn't even have to do the investigation themselves. All of the evidence they needed was presented to them on a silver platter. People have been sent to prison on less evidence than was collected in this case, including me. They only needed to press the charges. They did not. So, things like this continue to happen. To babies.

This time it happened in public, and someone else found out. Then, they rightly took action to help. Laura's mother cared enough to stop and pick these chickens up, put them in a box in her van, and call us to come get them to try to save them, or at least keep them from being eaten alive by predators, or freezing to death on the side of the road. A big thanks goes out to her for being such a wonderful and caring person. Many people whizzed past these babies on the highway, without giving them another thought. The "they're just chickens" mentality again, no doubt. How utterly sad it is to think that they have no more heart than that. These are babies. Innocent ones. Only about nine weeks old. They still peep instead of cluck. They are just sweet little babies who did not deserve to be treated in such a horrifically cruel way.

If something had been done when I first brought all this to light then perhaps this would not have happened to start with. They suffered unnecessarily. I would like to know why the Polk County authorities are letting people get away with this. Don't you?

If so, you can contact them here:

The Honorable Tim Williamson, Prosecuting Attorney
Polk County Prosecutor’s Office
P.O. Drawer 109, 600 Port Arthur St.
Mena, AR 71953
479-394-6114
479-394-6173 (fax)
prosecutor18west@aol.com

Need I also remind people that the Grannis P.D. is right across the street from the plant? They have no doubt seen quite a few acts of cruelty themselves, yet they do nothing, either. Is it because they don't care or they don't believe anyone will be prosecuted? I don't know. Their site is at http://www.geocities.com/grannispd if you want to ask them, too.

This has been going on for years, but the outside world has only found out about it in the last year or so. I am hoping that, with enough attention from the public on this issue, even if no one is ever prosecuted in court, that the bad PR will force Tyson to do something about this. They just don't care. That is obvious. If they had listened to me long ago when I first spoke up (even when I still worked there), I would have never started up this blog and made a big deal out of all of this. You wouldn't be here reading about yet another act of cruelty attributed to their company. Perhaps you would like to tell them directly instead of or in addition to telling the authorities. If so, then you can contact them, too at ed.nicholson@tyson.com. He is their PR guy and spokesman.

The ordeal for Hope is over. She is at peace now and at least knew love and compassion at some point in her short life. Faith is still fighting, although she is quite weak and in obvious pain. We have already put a call into the vet this morning, leaving a message on the answering machine for them to call us as soon as they get in. I want to thank those people who mobilized quickly as soon as they heard about this and were generous enough to donate to help pay for the care for them. (If you would like to do the same, you can either do so through the PayPal button on this site or email me for my address.) I want to give a special than you for Billye for sending out a plea for Hope and Faith immediately after hearing of their ordeal. But, the person I most want to thank is Laura's mother, who was kind and caring enough to stop on her way to work and pick these babies up. She is the kind of person who will go out of her way to help any animal in need - humans, too. It is just in her nature to do so. And she raised Laura to do the same. I am lucky to have had these caring people accept me into their family. Thank you.

Thank you for helping me become the kind of person that mourns the death of one chicken, instead of being responsible for killing many of them. Thank you for helping me to realize that there is greater strength in caring that there ever will be in suppressing emotions with the intent of appearing to "be strong." Thank you for helping me be a real man that can express his feelings and emotions, even in pubic - to the whole world. Thank you for helping me to realize that to be a strength and not a weakness. Thank you for being patient with me as I went through this transformation. I know it wasn't easy. But, you loved me through it all. Thank you.

You know, I was thinking about that yesterday. The fact that the death of this one poor little baby chicken has hit me so hard, like a punch to the gut, has been what has really driven home the fact that I have changed so much. I have seen many dead chickens, watched them die, even killed them myself, but the death of this one, watching her suffer and breathe her last, was absolutely heartbreaking. What is even worse is that I know that she is not alone in her suffering. There are billions more just like her. And I used to kill them. What a big change I have made in just a little over a year! What a wonderful change, though. Yes, it hurts. But, it only serves to remind me that what I am doing is right. I will keep on fighting to try to prevent such needless suffering, no matter what.

I hope that you will, too.
Posted by: # Virgil / 7:11 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Monday, February 16, 2004

Cruelty and Apathy - Are You Guilty? 

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about the sheer amount of animal cruelty that goes on every day in this world. I never really thought about it before I started doing this work. I never realized exactly how widespread it was, either. I figure that most of the public probably doesn't, either.

Unless you are an activist like me that subscribes to many newsletters, has a program that constantly scans the news for certain keywords, and belongs to many groups and forums, there is probably no way for you to be aware of exactly how bad and widespread this problem really is.

To give you an idea of what I am talking about, I'll use the example of the article that sparked this post. It is called, "Animal cruelty or family fun?" and discusses an issue that just really makes my blood boil - "hog/dog rodeos."

Ever heard of these? I hadn't. Seems this is considered "family fun" in Clarke County, Alabama, though. Let me use a few quotes from the article to give you an idea of exactly how horrible this really is:

Recently our NBC 15 undercover team broke into this world where watching torture and bloodshed is a family pastime for all ages. It's a game of catch. Dogs, mostly pit bulls, showing off their hunting skills. Those that latch their powerful jaws on a penned wild pig the fastest win prize money and trophies.

The day NBC 15's Mike Rush attended, he witnessed pigs screeching in pain as dogs chewed ears, a tail and a snout. The battles were over as soon as the handlers could pry the dogs off the terrified hogs.

Joseph Ebey has attended many of these rodeos. His grandson is one of the "handlers." They're the guys in the ring who control the pigs, sometimes by kicking them in the face or wrestling them to the ground.

In between fights, children battled each other to be the first to tackle a pig with a taped snout and, according to the announcer, a broken leg.

With music blaring from a sounds system, an admission charge and bleachers, this is a business


There's more - even pictures and video of the event if you pull up the whole article. What was amazing to me is that this happens, even though the officials around there want to shut these events down. It seems to be a bit of a problem, though, to figure out who is responsible for doing that. There was even dispute whether or not they were even illegal, believe it or not.
As the article states:

These hog rodeos are anything but Clarke County's dirty little secret. They're put on by H and H Kennels who advertises their schedules in many publications, including the "Clarke County Shoppers Guide". Authorities have known about these fights for years.

So, why would they allow it to happen? Well, the D.A. says that he would prosecute if the sheriff would arrest people. The sheriff said he did once, but the D.A. wouldn't prosecute because he didn't think they were illegal at the time. Then, we find out more.

The sheriff says because of our interest, he'll ask Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor for his opinion. It's not the first time. More than three years ago, Mobile's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Mobile County's District Attorney's office asked Pryor to weigh in. The attorney general didn't get involved then and recently turned down our repeated requests to show him our video. His office stated it's a county matter.

So, what to do? Well, it looks like it was a good thing that the camera crew came in and exposed this sick little ring of people. Perhaps it will finally be stopped because of the publicity.

Since NBC 15 first spoke with Sheriff Day, He told us he's discussed the matter again with the District Attorney Keahey and both agree the hog/dog rodeos are against the law.

Johnny Hayes puts on the rodeos. He did not respond to our repeated requests for an interview, but at the event Rush attended, Hayes announced another rodeo is scheduled for February 21st. If it happens, the sheriff says he'll shut it down.


Well, good. It's about time. It is shameful to have something like this going on in what is supposed to be a decent and civilized society. They should shut down the kennels, too, and arrest Hayes for holding such an event in the first place. He should not be allowed to have anything to do with dogs. EVER!

But, you know, the worst thing about this is that these people were taking their children to an event like this. What kind of message does that send to them? Does it teach them to be caring, compassionate individuals? No. Quite the opposite. These people are preparing the next generation to be just as ruthlessly cruel as they are. Why would any parent want to encourage their children to commit such an act of cruelty toward another living creature? Why would they believe that this was "just good family fun?"

That's the question we should all be asking ourselves. Why do some people see nothing wrong with this? Why??? Why do others blind themselves to it? Why do they not care?

When did society get so mean and cruel? I don't believe it happened overnight. I think it just kind of crept up on us while we were not paying attention, busy with our own little lives. It started the first time someone turned their head, declaring this kind of thing to be "none of their business" and/or that they "don't want to get involved." But, is it not their business? Should they not get involved?

After all, these people move amongst us in society. The Police Chief of a neighboring town stated that some of the problems that stem from this are:

"People's cars getting vandalized in the parking lot, we've had complaints on dog fights in the parking lots, children getting hurt on 3 wheelers, fights."

What else happens because of the non-caring, even sadistic, attitude these people have?

I read of many atrocities every day in cities all over the place. Let me give you just a small sample of the things that have come through my inbox in just the past few weeks (it is by no means exhaustive):

Nicholas Matassa, of Gonzales, Louisiana, tortured a golden retriever to death because he was mad at his girlfriend.

Daniel Culligan in Bucks County, PA, doused a cat with charcoal lighter fluid, set it on fire, and tossed it over his back deck.

A poor little cat that showed up at a shelter in Kansas was shot in the face with a pellet gun by an unknown person. (Who, btw, is still walking amongst you...Somewhere...Who will be their next victim???)

Mr. William Richard Baker, of Wilson, NC, was seen placing a Pomeranian breed of dog in the trunk of his car just before entering Lowe’s. Wilson 911 dispatch was notified by a witness, and police and animal control confronted Mr. Baker with the allegation that he had in fact placed a dog in his trunk. Mr. Baker admitted his guilt and condoned his behavior stating arrogantly and abusively to officials that this was “. . . his damn dog and if he wanted, he would put it into a trunk again.”

We have multiple college fraternities across the country requiring pledges to commit an act of abominable cruelty to an animal to be accepted - beating geese to death, beating, skinning and eating a raccoon, etc.

And the list goes on and on and on and on and on. You might not have heard about these cases, but they go on right under your nose. They happen every day. They happen right in your city - your neighborhood, even.

Then, we have much more public things that happen, like the aerial shooting of wolves in Alaska. Or even this picture of chickens being burned alive in the village of Bolangan, in Bali, Indonesia.

Why do we allow these things to happen? Why don't we stand up and stop this behavior? Why do we decide it is none of our business or that we are helpless to do anything about it? Why? Why?

WHY?????????????????

Because these acts of cruelty do affect us all. Every one of us.

Consider this from one of PETA's factsheets, "Animal Abuse and Human Abuse: Partners in Crime":

The FBI has found that a history of cruelty to animals is one of the traits that regularly appear in its computer records of serial rapists and murderers, and the standard diagnostic and treatment manual for psychiatric and emotional disorders lists cruelty to animals as a diagnostic criterion for conduct disorders.

Studies have shown that violent and aggressive criminals are more likely to have abused animals as children than criminals considered non-aggressive. A survey of psychiatric patients who had repeatedly tortured dogs and cats found that all of them had high levels of aggression toward people as well, including one patient who had murdered a boy. To researchers, a fascination with cruelty to animals is a red flag in the lives of serial rapists and killers.
Says Robert Ressler, founder of the FBI’s behavioral sciences unit, "These are the kids who never learned it’s wrong to poke out a puppy’s eyes."

We, as a society, cannot afford to turn our heads and claim it is none of our business. We absolutely must get involved. These people must be stopped before they get worse. It might be you, your animals, or even your kids or grandkids, that they victimize next. Would you decide it was none of your business then? Wouldn't you be extremely angry if you were to find out that there were people knew of the sadistic nature of a person, but said and did nothing, didn't want to "get involved," and that person went on to abuse or kill your dog, your cat, your child?!

This is a matter that does indeed affect us all. It is not merely the acts these people perpetrate. It is the attitude and mindset they have that allows them to commit - even enjoy! - this type of behavior - this sadistic and criminal behavior. It is this same mindset that they pass on to the next generation of children.

And, it is the apathy of society that lets them get away with it.

You may be saying to yourself that, yes, these acts of cruelty are horrible, but you don't have the time to write letters or pick up the phone. Are you really so very busy that you don't have time to stop what could be a serial killer in the making? Really? Do you not care enough to make the time to get involved? I'm busy, too. I struggle to find enough work every day just to earn enough money to survive. But, somehow I do manage to find the time, as do many others.

Just imagine how much of a difference you could make if you spent but just a few minutes a day, even an hour a week, to speak up and say loudly, "NO!" when you hear of something like this.

According to former Congressperson Billy Evan (D-Ga.), "Legislators estimate that 10 letters from constituents represent the concerns of 10,000 citizens. Anybody who will take the time to write is voicing the fears and desires of thousands more." If that's not enough to convince you, ask yourself this: If you don't communicate with the officials representing you, who will? While you're complaining to your friends about gruesome animal experiments (or any other type of cruelty), someone who disagrees with you is communicating with your lawmakers. Do you want them speaking for you?

Speak up. Get involved. The life you save may be your own.

Or your child's...

It is your business.

It is the business of every one of us because these people live in our communities.

They may even live right next door to you!

If you are not a part of the solution, then you are part of the problem.

At the end of your life will you be able to say that you made a difference? Will you be able to say that the world is a better place for having you in it?

Will you have regrets???

You can make a difference. Look at how much of a difference a backwoods hillbilly ex-chicken plant worker has made.

You are here reading my blog, aren't you? ;)
Posted by: # Virgil / 6:23 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Even More From Dave Louthan 

Well, it looks like they are really getting after Dave pretty bad. No surprise here. They did it to me, too. After all, we are talking about BILLION$ of dollar$ here. Unfortunately, those billions come at the cost of public safety. Don't you think that people like Dave and I know a little more about what happens in those plants than the officials you see on the news? Do you really expect an industry or USDA spokesperson to tell the truth about this?

Really???????

Even though it would devastate our economy and scare the public into not eating meat??? Do you really think they wouldn't lie?????

Really??????

If you still eat meat, you need to read this latest email from him to me. It could save your life. Or the lives of your children. Take it, Dave:

Dave Louthan here. A lot of people are asking me why I am on this crusade against the USDA.I've lost my job, my home,my peace, and my safety.There are many people out there that are not to happy with me right now. I'm doing this because nobody else is. The North American herd is just full of BSE and the people that buy and eat meat just don't seem to understand that it's going to kill them and they're kids. I've suspected there might be some BSE here and there but it didn't become real for me until I got that cow all over me. On Dec. 24 we got word that the test on that cow came back positive. I thought well alright the USDA will be all over this. The killing will stop until they can set up a nation wide testing program. On Dec. 26 they told us at Vern's they were going to ban down cow slaughter and that would take care of the problem. I was floored, shocked, stunned, scared, and mad all at the same time. That cow was not a downer.This screamed coverup. My face turned red, my ears burned, my heart was pounding. In that exact moment I knew what was happening, I knew who was doing it, I knew why they were doing it, and I knew how to stop them. I marched straight out to the KXLY news crew locked outside the gate and I asked them "What do you want to know". The rest is history. What I didn't count on was the American consumers would just keep munching away at this tainted beef and pretending that it was happening some where else. I've realized now I 'm not going to be able to save everybody but maybe I can save some lives. Remember the big Jack-in-the-box E-coli outbreak.I read a story in the paper when this was going on. A mother of one of the kids who died had said his last words to her before he went into a coma were " Mommy I love you". That tears my heart out every time I think about it. I MUST TRY TO STOP THAT FROM HAPPENNING AGAIN. So I have been on this 20 hours a day, everyday since Dec.26. As far as I can tell I have made little or no progress toward getting it fixed. People just don't want to listen. Ann Veneman keeps lying and lying. Her own committee told us we have alot of sick cows here so she fired them and put another committee together made up of Ranchers, Rendering company people, For God's sake she hired a Mcdonalds company man. Guess what this committee's recomendations are going to be. This is blackhearted, underhanded, and criminal. Would somebody please wake up the American people. The USDA is trying to kill you in the name of Profit. Thank you for your time. A special note to the USDA-Office of the Inspector General. I am not a terrorist. Leave me and my family alone please. I can deal with your numerous visits but my family is very afraid of you. All I want is for you to start testing the beef. ALLTHE BEEF. That's a simple slaughter procedure. When you give us that I'll stop. Until then I'll keep standing out here in the desert banging my trash can lids together trying to get some attention

You just keep on hollering, Dave.

And I will, too.

Oh, and btw - Dave has started himself up a blog to tell his story. Go check it out. Dave, I will keep on helping you to get the word out. You have my full support. Don't let them get you down, dude. You are doing the right thing.

And I am, too.

WAKE UP PEOPLE! THEY ARE LYING TO YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!
Posted by: # Virgil / 5:33 AM 0 comments Links to this post

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Update - Dave Louthan Strikes Again! 

Did anyone else see the latest article on Dave Louthan in the New York Times?

It seems that I am not the only one he wrote to to try to get that message out about the contamination. Funny that I scooped the New York Times on the story, though. You saw it here first, folks! LOL!!!

But, seriously, the guy has been fired for speaking up, but at least he had the balls to stand up to them and do the right thing. He has even more of my respect than I gave him when I first reported here about his letter.

I was more than glad to offer him a place to speak out. From what I read in the article, he has had a hard time with that. It looks like they have targeted him just like they did me. That's not unexpected though, not with the billion$ of dollar$ of industry profit$ involved. Sorry to hear about it, though.

**Hey, Dave! If you need any more help, I'll be glad to get your story out to as many people as you like. I'll help you. You may not be an animal-lover like I am, but if you are willing to fight against the industry's current business practices, I will help you. I'm tired of their lies and cover-ups, too. Just email again if you need anything. (That goes for anyone else that wants to blow the whistle on where they work, too. You have a platform here to tell your story. They can't shut us all up.)

Anyway, here is the article that was in the NYT, for those of you who don't want to go to their site top read it (although there is a pic of Dave there):

“Man Who Killed the Mad Cow Has Questions of His Own”

By Donald G. McNeil, Jr.
The New York Times
February 3, 2004

Shooting a cow turned Dave Louthan into a crusader.

On Dec. 9, at Vern's Moses Lake Meats in Moses Lake, Wash., Mr. Louthan killed the only mad cow found in the United States.

Two weeks later, he says, he was dismissed after four years as Vern's slaughterer when he talked to the television crews outside and told them he was sure the cow, ground into hamburger, had already been eaten. The plant's owners did not return calls seeking comment.

"I got a big mouth," he said in a telephone interview.

Since then, it has gotten bigger. Using borrowed computers — he has none of his own, only "a microwave and a TV that gets four channels" — he started writing to newspapers, and is to testify today before the Washington State Legislature.

Contrary to reports from the federal Department of Agriculture, he asserts that the cow he killed was not too sick to walk. And it was caught not by routine surveillance, he says, but by "a fluke": he killed it outdoors because he feared it would trample other cows lying prostrate in its trailer, and the plant's testing program called for sampling cows killed outside only.

"Mad cows aren't downers," he said. "They're up and they're crazy." The Agriculture Department disputes his account. Dr. Kenneth Petersen, a food safety official, faxed copies of the Dec. 9 inspector's report saying the cow was "sternal," or down on its chest.

Mr. Louthan said he believed the government changed the report on Dec. 23, during the panic at Vern's when a positive test was found. The "smoking gun," he said, is that it is the only one on the page marked "unable to get temp" while other cows' temperatures were recorded. It is easy, he said, to get a rectal temperature from a downed cow but hard from a jumpy one.

Dr. Petersen said that he had no indication the records were altered and that the veterinarian had told him the animal was lying so close to the trailer wall that a thermometer could not be used.

In his new role as bloody-handed industry critic, Mr. Louthan argues that too few cattle are tested for mad cow to say with certainty that beef is safe. "One mad cow is a scare, but two is an epidemic," he said. "They absolutely, positively don't want to find another."

Ed Curlett, a department spokesman, said about 83 a month were tested at Vern's from October to December. (The testing began only in October, when the government starting paying $10 a brain sample.)

The department has not changed last year's plans to test 40,000 cows nationwide this year, out of 30 million slaughtered. Janet Riley, a spokeswoman for the American Meat Institute, which represents slaughterhouses, called that "plenty sufficient from a statistical standpoint."

Mr. Louthan, who lives across the street from Vern's, said that the slaughtering was "still going like crazy" but that an inspector in the plant told him no more mad cow testing was being done.

Dr. Petersen said he did not know if Vern's was testing.

On Jan. 4, an angry Mr. Louthan started sending e-mail messages to all the inspectors on the department's Web site, asking, "Are you just going to sit there with your hands in your pockets?" and accusing Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman of lying when she said American beef was safe.

Since then, he said, green department cars have parked outside his house "trying to scare me."

He gave the name and number of one agent who he said had told him to get in the car and ordered him to stop sending e-mail. The agent refused to speak to a reporter, but a spokesman said Mr. Louthan had asked that they talk in the agent's car and the agent did not intimidate, harass or argue with him.

Mr. Louthan is no animal-rights champion. His good-old-boy braggadocio and Texas drawl make him sound like a parking-lot matador with a knocking gun — a tube with a blank pistol cartridge that drives a bolt into the brain. Killing is "really fun," and beats deboning, which he calls "girls' work."

"I'm fast, I'm efficient, and I know how to get in through their flight zones," he said, meaning the way nervous cows turn to flee.

At Vern's, he killed about 20 old dairy cows a day and buffaloes on Thursdays, along with the odd ostrich, emu and alpaca.

The now famous cow, he said, was a white Holstein from the Sunny Dene Ranch in Mabton, Wash.

She was "a good walker," he said. As the driver poked her with a cattle prod, her eyes were "all white, bugging out."

"She wouldn't come down that step," he went on, "and I knew she was fixing to double back in and trample the downers, and that's a mess," so he killed her there.

Mr. Louthan was also the plant's carcass splitter, and he has a warning about that too.

With a 400-pound band saw, he said, splitters cleave the spinal column from neck to tail as hot-water jets blast fat and bone dust off the saw. The slurry, with spinal cord in it, "runs all over the beef," he said. The carcasses are then hosed with hot water and sprayed with vinegar.

Bucky Gwartney, director of research for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, confirmed that most American slaughterhouses do the same. Since the Dec. 31 ruling that all cows older than 30 months must have their brains and spinal cords removed, "processors are actively looking at changes," he said.

Mr. Louthan said the agent who ordered him to be quiet suggested that he was akin to "an urban terrorist" for spreading alarm about beef.

"I'm not," Mr. Louthan said. "I just want to enjoy my cheeseburger like anybody else. I don't want to think: Is this the magic burger that's going to kill me?"


I don't think that anyone should have to wonder that, do you? People sure shouldn't have to wonder if the Happy Meal they are feeding their kids is "The One." We shouldn't have to worry about the risk of bird flu, either.

But we do.

They just don't want you to know about the risks.

They try to shut up people like me and Dave Louthan.

Well, we won't shut up.

And we won't go away...


Posted by: # Virgil / 5:57 PM 0 comments Links to this post

Monday, February 02, 2004

Another Look at the Life of a Chicken-Hanger 

Sorry I haven't been posting as much recently. I have, unfortunately had less and less time to spend doing this work. While there were quite a few generous souls (thank you again!) that contributed to my efforts so that I could spend more time working on The Cause, that has run out, and I am out scrambling and scrounging for whatever work I can find again. Lately, we have both been doing a lot of brush-clearing, firewood-cutting, and stuff like that (yes, even poor Laura with her back, neck, and shoulder problems and chronic pain has been helping me as much as she physically can).

Now, don't get me wrong - we don't mind a bit of work, even hard work, if that is what it takes to survive. I just felt I owed you all an explanation for my increased absences and lapses in posting. Writing posts here on the blog takes a lot more time (usually) than simply passing around an article - like I do in my Yahoo group. Anyone who is interested in staying on top of this issue can join the group, as I convey more information in the group than I do here.

Thank you all for your continued support, and most of all, for continuing to care enough to read what I have to say.

Now, on to today's post:

I have talked quite a bit about several issues that the following article brings up - illegals, the company's intimidation tactics, corruption and bribe-taking, bad working conditions, low pay, even the sexual harassment, etc. There have been many allegations of criminal activity on the part of Tyson, but who is willing to talk? They are all-powerful around here, and they do pretty much as they please (as all you regular readers already know). Although there isn't a union at Grannis, I have seen some of these people get fired after a year or two's seniority (and higher pay) then get hired right back on at the lower, hew-hire rate of pay. Where else are they going to find work? Everyone has seen how hard it is for me to find any work (much less steady work, and especially not with any sort of benefits), even after more than a year looking. How much harder is it on an illegal alien that may not even speak the language well and that has fake ID? Who else will accept that fake ID (or even provide them with a new one if they need it) and hire them anyway???

I have also cited a few articles that dealt with these issues. However, I believe that the one that I am posting today (in its entirety, except for the photos and links at the end of it - you'll have to go to the original to see those) is one of the better ones. It may be a bit of a long read for some, however it does offer a rare glimpse (rare for some, anyway - for others it's a way of life they see and live every day) into the poultry industry in Mississippi, indeed across much of the rural South.

It's not so different here, either. The influx of illegals willing to put up with just about anything for a job leads to worse working conditions, lower pay, even to the unfair landlords charging rent per person instead of charging a set price for an apartment, etc. Wherever the chicken plants are located, you will find the desperation and the hopelessness of the poverty of rural slums and everything that goes along with that way of life, including those individuals and companies who prey on and profit from such people.

Well, I guess that is enough rambling from me or this post will be WAAAY too long. It just feels too cold and impersonal for me to simply post an article here without some sort of comment from me to you. Especially since there are so many of you that I regularly correspond with and have gotten to know. (he smiles fondly, as the names run through his mind...:) )

There are many places that I would just love to jump into the middle of this article and leave my own comments. I would love to jump up and yell, "I said that! Go see what I said on..." But then, I thought to myself (as I again pondered the length of the article and thus, this post) that I have already made just about every point that this article does. And I have made these same points repeatedly. My stories and experiences are here for everyone to see. There is no point in going over them again and again. Most of you have probably already read all of this blog, anyway. If not, it's all there for you to discover at your leisure. I have been pretty talkative since I started. ;-)

And, if you don't believe me, then you probably won't believe any of the other workers I have featured here that are starting to talk, not even this poor guy. Your denial doesn't change the facts, though. They are no less true for the ones suffering every day and night - human and non-human alike. (Come on, workers! Tell them some more!!! How much worse can your lives really get? You have to speak out and come together. It's what "They" fear the most. Can't you tell? You have the power. You just have to learn to use it and come together. This is not a racial or ethnic issue. They exploit you no matter what color you are or what language you speak. You suffer the same. Find common ground, cooperate, and come together. You can make a difference!)

**Anyone knowing any illegals in these plants, please translate and get the following info to them. You can help, too.**

This was sent to me minutes ago from a good friend. Thanks, Bruce. (hat tip) (And, yes, I saw the interview with you today. Great job! India, huh? I thought I read something about that somewhere. I bet you had some great Indian veggie food while you were there. I hear it's wonderful.)

The chicken hangers

Posted on Sunday, February 01 @ 19:11:10 PST
IDENTIFY (News and Analysis) President Bush has proposed an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws that could provide broad new rights to millions of undocumented workers. But how are they faring now? A look at how immigrant workers from Mexico are changing the face of the poultry industry in the South.

Written and photographed by Russell Cobb / Laurel, Mississippi
Published Monday, February 2, 2004

Chicken processing is a dirty business, but no job in a poultry plant is more dreaded than "live hang." Here, workers known as "chicken hangers" grab birds by their feet and sling them on to fast-moving metal hooks. This is the first - and dirtiest - stage of poultry processing. The birds, weighing approximately five pounds each, fight back by pecking, biting, and scratching the hangers, who wear plastic cones around their forearms to shield off chicken attacks. Then, as workers finally hoist the birds onto the hooks, the chickens urinate and defecate out of desperation, often hitting the workers below.

The next stage - the "kill room" - may be bloodier, but most of the work there is done by laser-sharpened buzz-saws; only rarely does a chicken slip past the saw with its throat intact. Although no one has figured out how to sanitize the nasty job of hanging chickens, poultry managers pride themselves on the efficiency of their plants. One plant manager in Laurel, Mississippi, described his plant to me as "an automobile factory in reverse: They put cars together, we take chickens apart."

Like many immigrant workers in the poultry industry, Esteban - a Veracruz, Mexico, native in his early twenties - agreed to work in "live hang" only because it paid slightly better than other positions at the Peco Foods plant in Bay Springs, Mississippi. Nestled in the rolling hills of southern Mississippi's "Pine Belt," Bay Springs feels like a twenty-first century company town: Peco employs approximately 800 workers, while the total population of Bay Springs is around 2,000. At $8 an hour, chicken hangers at the Bay Springs plant make $1 to $1.50 more than other workers who debone, package, eviscerate, or kill chickens in other parts of the plant. In an industry with some of the highest turnover rates and lowest wages in the nation, chicken hanging has the highest turnover of any position. According to one manager I spoke to, workers in "live hang" rarely last a week before they ask to be transferred to another position. Others simply disappear, never to return to the chicken plant.

"You think you'd last a week here?" the manager asked me as he opened a door to the plant's live hang room. For about five seconds, I watched men in a dark, sweltering room, (the darkness supposedly calms the chickens) struggle with a blur of feathers, dirt and blood. A conveyor belt dumped chickens on the ground and about five men wrestled to get them on the hooks before the next load arrived.

"I probably wouldn't last an hour," I responded.

Despite the bleak conditions, Esteban flourished in his new job. With closely cropped hair, a slight build, and a collection of NBA T-shirts, Esteban had the air of a bright-eyed teenager. As an undocumented worker who spoke no English, he made the most of his limited opportunities in Mississippi; he got along well with his line supervisor and claims to have been able to hang over forty five-pound chickens per minute, an incredible feat considering the hazards of the job.

Then, after a year on the job, Julio Gordo, a manager at Peco Foods, called Esteban into his office. (To protect his identity, Julio Gordo is a pseudonym.) According to Esteban, Gordo told him that the Social Security Administration had notified Peco Foods that Esteban's Social Security Number had repeated as a number for another worker.

At first, Esteban feared he would be fired by the plant and deported for document fraud - a fate not uncommon among undocumented workers. "Gordo told me he could have the cops here in five minutes if I didn't cooperate with him," Esteban confided to me later.

The no-match crisis: threats in the guise of favors

When I first met Esteban during the hottest days of last summer, he was reluctant to talk about hanging chickens, Peco Foods, Social Security Numbers, or anything else other than the new car he had bought with Peco wages. Like many immigrant workers in chicken plants, Esteban initially shrugged off my questions about hardships in the plant by saying, "I came here to work and I don't want any problems."

At the time, I was working as a translator for the local union, Laborer's International Union of North America (LIUNA) Local 693 while gathering research for an academic paper focusing on the changing face of the South vis a vis the poultry industry. The management of Peco Foods decided to let me in the plant on one condition" that I work exclusively as a translator -and not as a recruiter - for the union.

I quickly learned that workers at Peco Foods had two mutually exclusive opinions about the plant: inside the plant, they had no complaints about the work or their bosses; outside the plant, the workers despaired about what they saw as deplorable conditions and incessant harassment by managers. Many wondered why they had risked their lives to come to Mississippi only to slave away in a chicken plant. They longed for jobs picking fruit, cutting timber or doing construction - anything besides hanging poultry.

Outside the plant, they accused managers of not paying overtime, charging workers money to keep their jobs, and denying workers bathroom breaks; inside the plant, however, they couldn't be happier about Peco Foods. In the end, a job at the chicken plant represented a ticket to a new life for immigrant workers and few were willing to quit over perceived injustices. Esteban was no exception.

After Gordo allegedly threatened to deport Esteban, he reassured him that he could stay on at the plant if he could get a new ID and Social Security Number. Esteban knew this would be difficult; fake documents cost hundreds of dollars and were sold by only a handful of people in southern Mississippi on the black market. Furthermore, Esteban knew he would run the risk of being fired or deported if he bought a new Social Security Number, since he would be admitting his old one was false. Even with a new I.D., his seniority - including the two raises he had received for a year's work - would be revoked. Esteban would be starting over from scratch.

Then, according to Esteban, Gordo told him he was willing to do him a "favor": Esteban could buy a new Social Security Card from Gordo for $700. This was a favor Gordo had done for many other Mexicans in the same situation, he claimed. Still, the news came at a bad time: Esteban was trying to pay off traffic tickets and send money back to his family in Veracruz. He simply didn't have the cash to pay off his supervisor. When Gordo also demanded that Esteban arrange a date for him with Esteban's female cousin after work as a return "favor," Esteban decided he had had enough. (In a conversation with a union representative, Gordo vehemently denied that he ever offered to "sell" documents to employees).

Esteban asked the plant's union representative, Charles Carney, for advice. Although it was rare for an immigrant worker to talk to a union rep in the plant, Esteban felt he had no other choice than to turn to the union, since Gordo had threatened to terminate him if he didn't accept the deal.

Carney listened in shock to Esteban's story as I translated. "Tell him we need to talk to him at home," Carney told me. "We can't talk in here."

Home, as we found out, was a run-down trailer park on the outskirts of Laurel, Mississippi, where many chicken workers lived. Tucked away behind the town's Wal-Mart on an unpaved road, the unnamed trailer park looked more like a refugee camp than a subdivision; rotting garbage and abandoned pick-up trucks were the only landmarks. The day we visited, workers came out of their trailers to tell similar stories about Gordo first charging them to obtain jobs and then, after informing them of a Social Security "no-match" letter, demanding additional payment for providing new documents.

After a day of interviews, it became clear that the Social Security Administration (SSA) had sent a letter to Peco Foods with a list of workers' names whose Social Security Numbers' did not match its records. Peco Foods then told these workers individually that they must "correct" the error or be fired within two weeks.

Although Peco officials are no longer officially commenting on the "no-match" situation, Steve Conley, the company's human resources manager told the Associated Press in August, "We didn't realize there was a problem with these folks or we wouldn't have hired them in the first place. At that point, we just told them, get it straight with Social Security or we'll terminate you." (Peco Foods did not respond to phone and e-mail inquiries for this story.)

Carney, a former poultry plant worker himself, was incredulous when he heard that company officials claimed they were ignorant of the immigrants' status. In fact, he was convinced that the company knew it stood to gain from employing workers who could be easily sacked because of questions about their papers and took advantage of their precarious legal status.

Carney's union, LIUNA Local 693, had recently succeeded in ousting one manager accused of charging immigrants to obtain jobs and his replacement - Gordo - was turning out to be even more problematic. Carney began to wonder if Gordo's purported strategy of selling counterfeit documents to immigrants who had shown up as "no-matches" in the SSA's database extended to higher level managers in the company, and perhaps outside the plant.

After Esteban was fired weeks later, Carney called Peco Foods' plant manager and threatened to file a grievance for a breach of the union contract unless the worker was reinstated and Gordo was fired. Carney claimed the worker was fired without just cause since, as far as he could tell, the "no-match" letter did not imply the worker was illegal, but rather that there had been some sort of error in his paperwork. The plant manager was surprised to hear a union representative - especially an African American - taking an interest in the plight of an immigrant worker.

"I thought you wanted [the immigrants] out of the plant, because they were stealing your jobs" the manager said to Carney over the phone.

"If I've learned one thing over the past ten years," Carney responded, "it's, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

"He didn't take that too well," Carney told me later. "I think I heard him throwing a chair around his office."

Learning to "speak Mexican" in the rural South

Carney, a stout Baptist deacon and veteran of the Vietnam War and many years in Mississippi chicken plants, is an unlikely convert to the immigrants' cause. When he came back from the war, Carney found a job in the deep freeze section of a Sanderson Farms plant in Collins, Mississippi. He quickly gained a reputation as the only African American worker willing to stand up to a notoriously racist plant manager and helped to unionize three poultry plants in southern Mississippi. After nearly a decade of fighting to keep immigrants out of the local poultry plants, only to see their numbers increase steadily, Carney underwent a Pauline conversion in his attitude toward immigrant rights a few years ago.

Although he doesn't "speak Mexican," as he puts it, he believes immigrant workers and African Americans share many of the same problems in Mississippi poultry plants" both are stuck in low-wage jobs with few chances to get ahead in a highly segregated society. They work in an industry that Occupational Safety and Health Administration has designated as one of the most hazardous and which ranks near the bottom in Labor Department statistics for median wages. And as bad as conditions can be for African American workers on the processing line, Carney believes the immigrants' situation is worse; in fact, he often compares it to slavery.

But while Carney equates "Big Poultry" with the plantation system, industry experts cite the huge economic impact of chicken on the state economy and its ever-expanding global market as Mississippi's ticket out of its seemingly perpetual status as the nation's poorest state. According to Mississippi State University poultry science reports, poultry contributes $2 billion to the state economy and nearly 70,000 jobs, making it the most important "agricultural" industry in the state. Since 1987, the number of Mississippi chickens sold has more than doubled to over 700 million per year and poultry companies are increasingly looking abroad for new consumers. In 1990, the U.S. exported 500,000 metric tons of chicken overseas, while in the year 2000 that figure increased five-fold to 2,500,000, as China and Russia became the two largest consumers of U.S. chicken. Peco Foods Web site proudly boasts company exports of "jumbo wings" and "jumbo legs" to Indonesia, China, Spain, and Romania, among other countries.

Like the plantation system, however, Big Poultry is largely a Southern phenomenon: the top six broiler-producing states are located in the South, with Georgia and Arkansas constantly battling for number one. And even though it is currently ranked as the fifth-largest broiler producer, Mississippi boasts the single largest processing plant in the U.S. - an ultra-modern Choctaw Maid plant built in 2000 in Carthage, capable of processing over 2 million chickens per week. It is this massive boom in poultry that is largely responsible for changing the rural South from a biracial, agricultural culture to a globalized entrepot.

Despite the boom in poultry production, the industry has a notorious reputation with labor unions, environmental and immigrants' rights groups. Tyson, the world's largest chicken processor, was labeled by Multinational Monitor magazine as one of the world's "Ten Worst Corporations" in 1999 for its use of child labor. Then, Tyson became the subject of a thirty-six-count Justice Department indictment for human trafficking in 2001. Ever since three top-level Tyson managers were acquitted by a federal grand jury for smuggling immigrants to the South from Central America last year, the industry has faced increasing scrutiny on its recruiting and hiring tactics. The media spotlight on Tyson's alleged trafficking in immigrant labor, combined with the economic downturn and security concerns in recent years, has made many locals - whites and African Americans alike - wary of embracing undocumented workers.

In another Peco Foods plant in Canton, Mississippi, a similar "no-match" crisis set off a crusade led by the town's sheriff against Canton's entire population of undocumented workers. After approximately 200 workers were fired by Peco because of the "no-match" letter, Sheriff Toby Trowbridge told the Clarion-Ledger - the daily paper in Jackson - that he would "round up" all "illegals" and "deport them." Although many workers were finally reinstated after the plant's union filed a grievance and national media started to take notice of the sheriff's campaign to deport an entire trailer park populated by immigrants, the damage had already been done.

As Anita Grabowski of the Equal Justice Center, an Austin, Texas-based legal aid group that focuses on immigration, told me: "Most of the workers live paycheck to paycheck. ... They had to find other work." Grabowski worked on a campaign to get the workers reinstated and found the union in Canton - a local of the United Food and Commercial Workers - less enthusiastic than Carney's local when it came to the plight of immigrant workers. Grabowski says that in the Canton case, union representatives were more interested in recruiting dues-paying members. At a July meeting for union members, Carney tried to convert other African American workers to his newfound cause. "They treat these Hispanics like they treated black folk back in slavery days," he said. "Y'all got to stick together with the Latinos."

The "Latinization" of the South

In a state still wrestling with ghosts of the Civil Rights struggle, Carney's message gets a mixed reception in the black community. In towns throughout the South where poultry is king, working-class African Americans view the influx of Latino workers with suspicion. Although the South is famous for its insularity and chauvinism, the refrain "they're stealing our jobs," is actually heard more in the black community than the white community, since few whites work processing-line jobs such as "live hang" and evisceration.

As Mike Cockrell, the chief financial officer of Mississippi's largest poultry company, Sanderson Farms, told me during a tour of the company's Laurel plant: "Jobs in chicken processing have been traditionally filled by black women. Many of these women are single mothers without much education. You can imagine it's got to be a hard life trying to raise children and work fulltime at a chicken plant."

Cockrell went on to argue that Hispanic immigrants - many of them indigenous people from southern Mexico and Central America - have a completely different conception of what constitutes a decent standard of living than Americans, but that Sanderson was committed to improving conditions in the plants. "Normal incentives to keep employees - health care, retirement, pensions - don't work with immigrants," he said. "They come here to work and send money back home." Nevertheless, Cockrell maintained that Sanderson Farms was a "family-friendly" company; he cited Sanderson's child-care facility in Collins, Mississippi, as an industry first. "We have people who work almost their whole lives here, and love it,” he said. “The guy in the kill room, he loves killing chickens. It's hard to get him out of there."

"He can say what he wants," Carney later told me. "But the fact is, they care more about those chickens than they care about their people." This is truism repeated by processing line workers everywhere. In an industry with annual turnover rates approaching 100 percent, the only constant in a chicken plant seems to be the endless line of upside-down birds whirling past the plant floor.

Because of increasing competition for these low-wage jobs, racial tension among Hispanic immigrants and African Americans runs high and occasionally boils over into a shouting match in the break room or parking lot. Carney fields calls daily from African American job seekers who claim to have been turned away from plants even as more immigrants are brought on. Poultry managers, for their part, maintain they simply can't hire enough native workers to supply the booming demand for chicken, which Americans increasingly view as a healthier and safer alternative to red meat.

Even if immigrants are not, in fact, taking poultry jobs away from locals (Grabowski claims they are not), the negative reaction is as understandable as it is misconceived. Against the odds - Mississippi is notoriously anti-union - Carney helped organize three Mississippi poultry plants in the early 1990s: two Sanderson Farms plants and one run by Peco Foods in Bay Springs. About five years ago, after tough union certification drives and harassment by plant managers, things started to look up for the union and its members. The poultry industry was booming and the union had fought for and received wage hikes and other benefits.

Then, the immigrants began arriving. Native Mississippians working on the line were at first perplexed, then angry, as line-speeds increased and new jobs were filled by workers from Mexican town they had never heard of, like Oaxaca and Chiapas. The immigrants worked harder, faster, and never complained. Labor contractors brought in groups of immigrants and paid them separately from other workers, often deducting a cut for their "services." Seemingly overnight, immigrants became the majority on the line at Peco Foods and a significant part of the Sanderson Farms plant.

Under the union contract, new workers aren't allowed to join until after a ninety-day probationary period. When Carney tried to recruit immigrant workers for his union, he found that the labor contractor fired workers after exactly ninety days, only to rehire them the same day under a new name and Social Security number. He discovered that workers who complained about not receiving overtime were fired on the spot. Even after massive firings, the poultry plants were able to bring in new immigrant workers without missing production quotas.

The situation is not unique to southern Mississippi. Throughout the South, immigrants have started taking jobs in poultry and meatpacking plants in towns that, until recently, remained largely untouched by the great waves of immigration to the United States throughout the twentieth century. The impact of Latino immigration on the economy and culture of the South has been overwhelming, yet rarely examined. When the Census Bureau reported that the Latino population of the southern states had tripled from 1990 to 2000, many people who follow immigration patterns thought that the Census had actually underreported the number of Latinos in the South. In Laurel, for example, the mayor and police officials consistently estimated the Hispanic population to be around 10 percent, while the census reported only 2 percent. Laurel residents say ten years ago, there was not one Mexican restaurant in town, whereas now there are at least four, plus three Mexican grocery stores.

This unprecedented immigration to the South represents a curious twist in the logic of global capitalism. "What's unique about poultry," Grabowski says, "is that unlike other sectors - like manufacturing - where companies have moved abroad in search of cheaper labor, poultry companies have, in effect, brought the cheap labor here. Poultry has combined the worst labor practices in agriculture with the worst practices in meatpacking."

Immigrants to small southern towns also struggle with life outside the plant. Although Mississippi has one of the lowest costs of living in the country, immigrants often pay over $1,000 a month for a rundown two-bedroom house or trailer. Rental markets in small towns in Mississippi are often controlled by a handful of landlords who gouge immigrants by charging rent per person, not per property. Under this scheme, half a dozen workers can be housed in small trailers, some without heat or running water. According to Laurel's mayor, some poultry workers have even lived in tents by the town's only shopping mall.

Responding to the no-match crisis

As Carney contemplated his options for responding to the situation at Peco Foods, he quickly learned more about the SSA's "no-match letter" - the reason Peco had fired Esteban. Shortly after Esteban was fired, other workers started approaching Carney telling him that they, too, had been notified that they had shown up as a "no-match" in the SSA database and would be fired within two weeks if they did nothing to correct the problem.

Carney called other LIUNA locals and an immigrants' rights group in Jackson. The "no-match" letter was not even on their radar; no one knew how to respond to the threat of mass firings other than to wish the immigrants luck in the next chicken plant. He arranged an ad-hoc meeting at the Catholic church in Laurel with some bilingual immigrants' rights advocates and asked workers to come. With less than twenty-four hours advance notice, approximately eighty workers showed up for the meeting.

After consulting with a team of lawyers and researchers from the Equal Justice Center and the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), Carney and his colleagues were finally able to get some background on the "no-match" letter. Both organizations are legal aid non-profits that represent immigrant workers with immigration and labor issues. After every tax season, Carney learned, the SSA sends letters to employees whose Social Security Numbers do not match the name reported to the SSA through the Internal Revenue Service.

According to the SSA, the original purpose of these letters was to reduce the astounding $374 billion in the SSA"s "Earnings Suspense File" (ESF), an account that holds money paid into Social Security that cannot be linked to individual workers. However benevolent SSA's intentions, the result of the government's "no-match" campaign has been a disaster for immigrant workers, a group disproportionately affected by these letters. The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) estimates that tens of thousands of workers have been fired solely on the basis of the "no-match" letter.

What makes these mass firings particularly troublesome, according to Bill Beardall, director of the Equal Justice Center, is that the SSA has no law enforcement powers and does not "share" information with government agencies like the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (the agency formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service).

Although employers are supposed to submit a copy of the letter to the employee and allow him or her to handle the issue without interference by the company, the company often fires the employee on the basis of the letter alone. In the Peco Foods case, for example, the company created its own letter, which it required employees to submit and sign, in effect forcing them to admit that they are working illegally. Once they admit to having submitted counterfeit documents to the company, they must be fired under the terms of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which prohibits employers from "knowingly" hiring undocumented workers.

None of this, of course, is explained to the immigrant, and companies such as Peco appear determined to keep immigrant workers in the dark about the "no-match" process; Peco sent out approximately sixty no-match letters last summer to immigrant workers and did not provide a Spanish translation until workers began to demand one. None of the workers were allowed to see the SSA's original letter, which clearly states in boldface type (in English and Spanish) that the letter does not constitute grounds for any adverse action against the employee.

Furthermore, the letter states that if the employer does, in fact, take action against the employee, the company "may" (a key word whose ambivalence remains unresolved even by legal experts at NILC and the Equal Justice Center) be violating the employee's rights under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The workers were simply told - and sometimes urged on the spot - to sign the company's letter and return it to Gordo as soon as possible.

The workers at the meeting in Laurel, however, appeared determined to fight for their jobs. With some emergency training and support from Beardall, the group of immigrants' rights advocates gathered at Laurel's Catholic church - including a freelance English teacher/translator and a Catholic seminarian - were able to explain to the workers that it would be illegal for the company to fire them without a just cause and that the "no-match letter" did not, in itself, constitute a just cause for termination.

Nevertheless, many of the immigrant workers doubted that, the company would respect their legal rights as workers. After hours of discussion in Spanish and English, it became clear that the workers held a fundamental mistrust not only of their employer - Peco Foods - but also of the governmental institutions that regulate companies' labor and safety practices. The immigrants simply could not believe that their rights would be respected by either the company or the government.

Foul-smelling victories

In a sense, immigrants are rightly skeptical of such institutions: undocumented workers are often arrested for minor crimes such as public intoxication or excessive traffic tickets and then deported. If an undocumented immigrant chooses to testify in court against an abusive employer, he or she will almost certainly be asked about his or her employment eligibility and the source of his or her documents, which are often counterfeit. This means potentially exposing the coyote who brought him or her into the country, as well as family and friends. Also, a recent decision by the Supreme Court in Hoffman Plastic v. NLRB makes it even harder for undocumented workers to win remuneration after being fired. Even when undocumented immigrants are "unjustly terminated," the court ruled, they do not have a right to sue their employer for back pay. Grabowski cites the Hoffman decision as a major factor in the Canton workers' inability to win back pay after being unjustly fired. In sum, the cards are stacked against the worker and only those with nothing to lose - such as Esteban - are willing to come forward and tell their stories.

Ultimately, the group of workers assembled at the church in Laurel decided to hand in letters to the company stating that they were aware of the no-match problem and would look into it on their own; they would not admit to having submitted a false Social Security Number, as the company had asked them to. Workers reported that when Gordo learned of the meeting, he became furious and told them they "would pay a price" and that "the union couldn't help them."

Many of the workers - and Carney - feared that Peco Foods would fire them, regardless. Surprisingly, days, then weeks went by, and Gordo took no action. The chicken hangers kept hanging chickens and the debone line kept removing bones from meat. For the immigrants and their unlikely advocate, it was a small, quiet victory over a powerful industry, an industry whose influence has done more to change the face of Mississippi than anything since the civil rights struggle.

Weeks after the "no-match" crisis had passed, I found myself back in the Peco Foods break room gazing through a window onto the plant floor. A conveyor belt with metal hooks wound around an immense room from "live hang" to "cut up," where a group of mostly Latina workers furiously separated chicken breasts from bones. The floor was like an ice-rink of chicken slime and water. The air was putrid as the smell from "further processing" - where the birds' bones, guts, and waste are boiled into animal feed - hung in the humid Mississippi air.

A group of chicken hangers came through the door for a fifteen-minute rest. Most of their break is spent doffing and donning their uniforms, which are caked in chicken excrement and chicken guts and the time left is usually spent smoking cigarettes and eating snacks from the vending machines. Two weeks after receiving their "no-match" letter, they weren't basking in their victory over Peco Foods, but contemplating other jobs in Mississippi, anywhere but in a chicken plant.

"So you don't want to stay here in Bay Springs now that you can keep your job?"

"I hear the timber industry is hiring," one said. "Beats hanging chickens."


Anything beats hanging chickens!!!!

You know, most people that buy into the propaganda of the poultry industry don't ever stop to think about the fact that the very nature of business that these companies are involved in - torturing and killing innocent and defenseless creatures and then profiting from it - has little regard for life. There is no compassion there. There is no dignity or respect for another living creature. Why then, is anyone surprised to find out that they have no problem with treating their workers with the very same disregard and disrespect? After all, to their way of thinking, there are "many more where they came from."

To the industry, the workers (and the consumers, too, for that matter) are no more than a means to an end. A way to make money - just like cutting off the beaks of chickens and cramming them in feces-encrusted cages for their short, miserable lives, before brutally killing them and selling every part of them they can. Why does it surprise anyone that a company involved in a cruel business would act in a cruel, cold-hearted manner? Who in their right mind expects to find much compassion in those who profit from killing???
Posted by: # Virgil / 12:27 PM 0 comments Links to this post

Another Look at the Life of a Chicken-Hanger 

Sorry I haven't been posting as much recently. I have, unfortunately had less and less time to spend doing this work. While there were quite a few generous souls (thank you again!) that contributed to my efforts so that I could spend more time working on The Cause, that has run out, and I am out scrambling and scrounging for whatever work I can find again. Lately, we have both been doing a lot of brush-clearing, firewood-cutting, and stuff like that (yes, even poor Laura with her back, neck, and shoulder problems and chronic pain has been helping me as much as she physically can). Now, don't get me wrong - we don't mind a bit of work, even hard work, if that is what it takes to survive. I just felt I owed you all an explanation for my increased absences and lapses in posting. Writing posts here on the blog takes a lot more time (usually) than simply passing around an article - like I do in my Yahoo group. Anyone who is interested in staying on top of this issue can join the group, as I convey more information in the group than I do here.

Thank you all for your continued support, and most of all, for continuing to care enough to read what I have to say.

Now, on to today's post:

I have talked quite a bit about several issues that the following article brings up - illegals, the company's intimidation tactics, corruption, and bribe-taking, bad working conditions, low pay, etc. I have also cited a few articles that dealt with these issues. However, I believe that the one that I am posting today (in its entirety) is one of the better ones. It may be a bit of a long read for some, however it does offer a rare glimpse (rare for some, anyway - for others it's a way of life they see and live every day) into the poultry industry in Mississippi, indeed across most of the South.

It's not so different here, either. The influx of illegals willing to put up with just about anything for a job leads to worse conditions, lower pay, even the sexual harassment, etc. Wherever the chicken plants are located, you will find the desperation and the hopelessness of the poverty of rural slums - and everything that goes along with that way of life, including those individuals and companies who prey on and profit from such people.

Well, I guess that is enough rambling from me or this post will be WAAAY too long. It just feels too cold and impersonal for me to simply post an article here without some sort of comment from me to you. Especially since there are so many of you that I regularly correspond with and have gotten to know. (he smiles fondly, as the names run through his mind...:) )

There are many places that I would just love to jump into the middle of this article and leave my own comments. I would love to jump up and yell, "I said that! Go see what I said on..." But then, I thought to myself (as I again pondered the length of the article) that I have already made just about every point that this article does. And I have made these same points repeatedly. My stories and experiences are here for everyone to see. There is no point in going over them again and again. Most of you have probably already read all of this blog, anyway. If not, it's all there for you to discover at your leisure. I have been pretty talkative since I started. ;-) And, if you don't believe me, then you probably won't believe any of the other workers I have featured here that are starting to talk, not even this poor guy. (Come on, workers! Tell them some more!!! How much worse can your lives really get? You have to speak out and come together. It's what "They" fear the most. Can't you tell? You have the power. You just have to learn to use it and come together. You can make a difference!)

**Anyone knowing any illegals in these plants, please translate and get the following info to them. You can help.**

This was sent to me minutes ago from a good friend. Thanks, Bruce. (hat tip) (And, yes, I saw the interview with you today. Great job! India again, huh? Have fun and eat some good Indian veggie food for me! I hear it's wonderful.)

The chicken hangers

Posted on Sunday, February 01 @ 19:11:10 PST
IDENTIFY (News and Analysis) President Bush has proposed an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws that could provide broad new rights to millions of undocumented workers. But how are they faring now? A look at how immigrant workers from Mexico are changing the face of the poultry industry in the South.

Written and photographed by Russell Cobb / Laurel, Mississippi
Published Monday, February 2, 2004

Chicken processing is a dirty business, but no job in a poultry plant is more dreaded than "live hang." Here, workers known as "chicken hangers" grab birds by their feet and sling them on to fast-moving metal hooks. This is the first - and dirtiest - stage of poultry processing. The birds, weighing approximately five pounds each, fight back by pecking, biting, and scratching the hangers, who wear plastic cones around their forearms to shield off chicken attacks. Then, as workers finally hoist the birds onto the hooks, the chickens urinate and defecate out of desperation, often hitting the workers below.

The next stage - the "kill room" - may be bloodier, but most of the work there is done by laser-sharpened buzz-saws; only rarely does a chicken slip past the saw with its throat intact. Although no one has figured out how to sanitize the nasty job of hanging chickens, poultry managers pride themselves on the efficiency of their plants. One plant manager in Laurel, Mississippi, described his plant to me as "an automobile factory in reverse: They put cars together, we take chickens apart."

Like many immigrant workers in the poultry industry, Esteban - a Veracruz, Mexico, native in his early twenties - agreed to work in "live hang" only because it paid slightly better than other positions at the Peco Foods plant in Bay Springs, Mississippi. Nestled in the rolling hills of southern Mississippi’s "Pine Belt," Bay Springs feels like a twenty-first century company town: Peco employs approximately 800 workers, while the total population of Bay Springs is around 2,000. At $8 an hour, chicken hangers at the Bay Springs plant make $1 to $1.50 more than other workers who debone, package, eviscerate, or kill chickens in other parts of the plant. In an industry with some of the highest turnover rates and lowest wages in the nation, chicken hanging has the highest turnover of any position. According to one manager I spoke to, workers in "live hang" rarely last a week before they ask to be transferred to another position. Others simply disappear, never to return to the chicken plant.

"You think you’d last a week here?" the manager asked me as he opened a door to the plant's live hang room. For about five seconds, I watched men in a dark, sweltering room, (the darkness supposedly calms the chickens) struggle with a blur of feathers, dirt and blood. A conveyor belt dumped chickens on the ground and about five men wrestled to get them on the hooks before the next load arrived.

"I probably wouldn't last an hour," I responded.

Despite the bleak conditions, Esteban flourished in his new job. With closely cropped hair, a slight build, and a collection of NBA T-shirts, Esteban had the air of a bright-eyed teenager. As an undocumented worker who spoke no English, he made the most of his limited opportunities in Mississippi; he got along well with his line supervisor and claims to have been able to hang over forty five-pound chickens per minute, an incredible feat considering the hazards of the job.

Then, after a year on the job, Julio Gordo, a manager at Peco Foods, called Esteban into his office. (To protect his identity, Julio Gordo is a pseudonym.) According to Esteban, Gordo told him that the Social Security Administration had notified Peco Foods that Esteban’s Social Security Number had repeated as a number for another worker.

At first, Esteban feared he would be fired by the plant and deported for document fraud - a fate not uncommon among undocumented workers. "Gordo told me he could have the cops here in five minutes if I didn't cooperate with him," Esteban confided to me later.

The no-match crisis: threats in the guise of favors

When I first met Esteban during the hottest days of last summer, he was reluctant to talk about hanging chickens, Peco Foods, Social Security Numbers, or anything else other than the new car he had bought with Peco wages. Like many immigrant workers in chicken plants, Esteban initially shrugged off my questions about hardships in the plant by saying, "I came here to work and I don't want any problems."

At the time, I was working as a translator for the local union, Laborer’s International Union of North America (LIUNA) Local 693 while gathering research for an academic paper focusing on the changing face of the South vis a vis the poultry industry. The management of Peco Foods decided to let me in the plant on one condition" that I work exclusively as a translator -and not as a recruiter - for the union.

I quickly learned that workers at Peco Foods had two mutually exclusive opinions about the plant: inside the plant, they had no complaints about the work or their bosses; outside the plant, the workers despaired about what they saw as deplorable conditions and incessant harassment by managers. Many wondered why they had risked their lives to come to Mississippi only to slave away in a chicken plant. They longed for jobs picking fruit, cutting timber or doing construction - anything besides hanging poultry.

Outside the plant, they accused managers of not paying overtime, charging workers money to keep their jobs, and denying workers bathroom breaks; inside the plant, however, they couldn't be happier about Peco Foods. In the end, a job at the chicken plant represented a ticket to a new life for immigrant workers and few were willing to quit over perceived injustices. Esteban was no exception.

After Gordo allegedly threatened to deport Esteban, he reassured him that he could stay on at the plant if he could get a new ID and Social Security Number. Esteban knew this would be difficult; fake documents cost hundreds of dollars and were sold by only a handful of people in southern Mississippi on the black market. Furthermore, Esteban knew he would run the risk of being fired or deported if he bought a new Social Security Number, since he would be admitting his old one was false. Even with a new I.D., his seniority - including the two raises he had received for a year’s work - would be revoked. Esteban would be starting over from scratch.

Then, according to Esteban, Gordo told him he was willing to do him a "favor": Esteban could buy a new Social Security Card from Gordo for $700. This was a favor Gordo had done for many other Mexicans in the same situation, he claimed. Still, the news came at a bad time: Esteban was trying to pay off traffic tickets and send money back to his family in Veracruz. He simply didn't have the cash to pay off his supervisor. When Gordo also demanded that Esteban arrange a date for him with Esteban's female cousin after work as a return "favor," Esteban decided he had had enough. (In a conversation with a union representative, Gordo vehemently denied that he ever offered to "sell" documents to employees).

Esteban asked the plant's union representative, Charles Carney, for advice. Although it was rare for an immigrant worker to talk to a union rep in the plant, Esteban felt he had no other choice than to turn to the union, since Gordo had threatened to terminate him if he didn't accept the deal.

Carney listened in shock to Esteban's story as I translated. "Tell him we need to talk to him at home," Carney told me. "We can’t talk in here."

Home, as we found out, was a run-down trailer park on the outskirts of Laurel, Mississippi, where many chicken workers lived. Tucked away behind the town's Wal-Mart on an unpaved road, the unnamed trailer park looked more like a refugee camp than a subdivision; rotting garbage and abandoned pick-up trucks were the only landmarks. The day we visited, workers came out of their trailers to tell similar stories about Gordo first charging them to obtain jobs and then, after informing them of a Social Security "no-match" letter, demanding additional payment for providing new documents.

After a day of interviews, it became clear that the Social Security Administration (SSA) had sent a letter to Peco Foods with a list of workers' names whose Social Security Numbers' did not match its records. Peco Foods then told these workers individually that they must "correct" the error or be fired within two weeks.

Although Peco officials are no longer officially commenting on the "no-match" situation, Steve Conley, the company's human resources manager told the Associated Press in August, "We didn't realize there was a problem with these folks or we wouldn't have hired them in the first place. At that point, we just told them, get it straight with Social Security or we'll terminate you." (Peco Foods did not respond to phone and e-mail inquiries for this story.)

Carney, a former poultry plant worker himself, was incredulous when he heard that company officials claimed they were ignorant of the immigrants' status. In fact, he was convinced that the company knew it stood to gain from employing workers who could be easily sacked because of questions about their papers and took advantage of their precarious legal status.

Carney's union, LIUNA Local 693, had recently succeeded in ousting one manager accused of charging immigrants to obtain jobs and his replacement - Gordo - was turning out to be even more problematic. Carney began to wonder if Gordo’s purported strategy of selling counterfeit documents to immigrants who had shown up as "no-matches" in the SSA's database extended to higher level managers in the company, and perhaps outside the plant.

After Esteban was fired weeks later, Carney called Peco Foods' plant manager and threatened to file a grievance for a breach of the union contract unless the worker was reinstated and Gordo was fired. Carney claimed the worker was fired without just cause since, as far as he could tell, the "no-match" letter did not imply the worker was illegal, but rather that there had been some sort of error in his paperwork. The plant manager was surprised to hear a union representative - especially an African American - taking an interest in the plight of an immigrant worker.

"I thought you wanted [the immigrants] out of the plant, because they were stealing your jobs" the manager said to Carney over the phone.

"If I've learned one thing over the past ten years," Carney responded, "it's, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

"He didn't take that too well," Carney told me later. "I think I heard him throwing a chair around his office."

Learning to "speak Mexican" in the rural South

Carney, a stout Baptist deacon and veteran of the Vietnam War and many years in Mississippi chicken plants, is an unlikely convert to the immigrants’ cause. When he came back from the war, Carney found a job in the deep freeze section of a Sanderson Farms plant in Collins, Mississippi. He quickly gained a reputation as the only African American worker willing to stand up to a notoriously racist plant manager and helped to unionize three poultry plants in southern Mississippi. After nearly a decade of fighting to keep immigrants out of the local poultry plants, only to see their numbers increase steadily, Carney underwent a Pauline conversion in his attitude toward immigrant rights a few years ago.

Although he doesn't "speak Mexican," as he puts it, he believes immigrant workers and African Americans share many of the same problems in Mississippi poultry plants" both are stuck in low-wage jobs with few chances to get ahead in a highly segregated society. They work in an industry that Occupational Safety and Health Administration has designated as one of the most hazardous and which ranks near the bottom in Labor Department statistics for median wages. And as bad as conditions can be for African American workers on the processing line, Carney believes the immigrants' situation is worse; in fact, he often compares it to slavery.

But while Carney equates "Big Poultry" with the plantation system, industry experts cite the huge economic impact of chicken on the state economy and its ever-expanding global market as Mississippi’s ticket out of its seemingly perpetual status as the nation's poorest state. According to Mississippi State University poultry science reports, poultry contributes $2 billion to the state economy and nearly 70,000 jobs, making it the most important "agricultural" industry in the state. Since 1987, the number of Mississippi chickens sold has more than doubled to over 700 million per year and poultry companies are increasingly looking abroad for new consumers. In 1990, the U.S. exported 500,000 metric tons of chicken overseas, while in the year 2000 that figure increased five-fold to 2,500,000, as China and Russia became the two largest consumers of U.S. chicken. Peco Foods Web site proudly boasts company exports of "jumbo wings" and "jumbo legs" to Indonesia, China, Spain, and Romania, among other countries.

Like the plantation system, however, Big Poultry is largely a Southern phenomenon: the top six broiler-producing states are located in the South, with Georgia and Arkansas constantly battling for number one. And even though it is currently ranked as the fifth-largest broiler producer, Mississippi boasts the single largest processing plant in the U.S. - an ultra-modern Choctaw Maid plant built in 2000 in Carthage, capable of processing over 2 million chickens per week. It is this massive boom in poultry that is largely responsible for changing the rural South from a biracial, agricultural culture to a globalized entrepot.

Despite the boom in poultry production, the industry has a notorious reputation with labor unions, environmental and immigrants' rights groups. Tyson, the world's largest chicken processor, was labeled by Multinational Monitor magazine as one of the world's "Ten Worst Corporations" in 1999 for its use of child labor. Then, Tyson became the subject of a thirty-six-count Justice Department indictment for human trafficking in 2001. Ever since three top-level Tyson managers were acquitted by a federal grand jury for smuggling immigrants to the South from Central America last year, the industry has faced increasing scrutiny on its recruiting and hiring tactics. The media spotlight on Tyson’s alleged trafficking in immigrant labor, combined with the economic downturn and security concerns in recent years, has made many locals - whites and African Americans alike - wary of embracing undocumented workers.

In another Peco Foods plant in Canton, Mississippi, a similar "no-match" crisis set off a crusade led by the town's sheriff against Canton's entire population of undocumented workers. After approximately 200 workers were fired by Peco because of the "no-match" letter, Sheriff Toby Trowbridge told the Clarion-Ledger - the daily paper in Jackson - that he would "round up" all "illegals" and "deport them." Although many workers were finally reinstated after the plant’s union filed a grievance and national media started to take notice of the sheriff's campaign to deport an entire trailer park populated by immigrants, the damage had already been done.

As Anita Grabowski of the Equal Justice Center, an Austin, Texas-based legal aid group that focuses on immigration, told me: "Most of the workers live paycheck to paycheck. ... They had to find other work." Grabowski worked on a campaign to get the workers reinstated and found the union in Canton - a local of the United Food and Commercial Workers - less enthusiastic than Carney's local when it came to the plight of immigrant workers. Grabowski says that in the Canton case, union representatives were more interested in recruiting dues-paying members. At a July meeting for union members, Carney tried to convert other African American workers to his newfound cause. "They treat these Hispanics like they treated black folk back in slavery days," he said. "Y'all got to stick together with the Latinos."

The "Latinization" of the South

In a state still wrestling with ghosts of the Civil Rights struggle, Carney's message gets a mixed reception in the black community. In towns throughout the South where poultry is king, working-class African Americans view the influx of Latino workers with suspicion. Although the South is famous for its insularity and chauvinism, the refrain "they’re stealing our jobs," is actually heard more in the black community than the white community, since few whites work processing-line jobs such as "live hang" and evisceration.

As Mike Cockrell, the chief financial officer of Mississippi’s largest poultry company, Sanderson Farms, told me during a tour of the company’s Laurel plant: "Jobs in chicken processing have been traditionally filled by black women. Many of these women are single mothers without much education. You can imagine it’s got to be a hard life trying to raise children and work fulltime at a chicken plant."

Cockrell went on to argue that Hispanic immigrants - many of them indigenous people from southern Mexico and Central America - have a completely different conception of what constitutes a decent standard of living than Americans, but that Sanderson was committed to improving conditions in the plants. "Normal incentives to keep employees - health care, retirement, pensions - don't work with immigrants," he said. "They come here to work and send money back home." Nevertheless, Cockrell maintained that Sanderson Farms was a "family-friendly" company; he cited Sanderson’s child-care facility in Collins, Mississippi, as an industry first. "We have people who work almost their whole lives here, and love it,” he said. “The guy in the kill room, he loves killing chickens. It's hard to get him out of there."

"He can say what he wants," Carney later told me. "But the fact is, they care more about those chickens than they care about their people." This is truism repeated by processing line workers everywhere. In an industry with annual turnover rates approaching 100 percent, the only constant in a chicken plant seems to be the endless line of upside-down birds whirling past the plant floor.

Because of increasing competition for these low-wage jobs, racial tension among Hispanic immigrants and African Americans runs high and occasionally boils over into a shouting match in the break room or parking lot. Carney fields calls daily from African American job seekers who claim to have been turned away from plants even as more immigrants are brought on. Poultry managers, for their part, maintain they simply can’t hire enough native workers to supply the booming demand for chicken, which Americans increasingly view as a healthier and safer alternative to red meat.

Even if immigrants are not, in fact, taking poultry jobs away from locals (Grabowski claims they are not), the negative reaction is as understandable as it is misconceived. Against the odds - Mississippi is notoriously anti-union - Carney helped organize three Mississippi poultry plants in the early 1990s: two Sanderson Farms plants and one run by Peco Foods in Bay Springs. About five years ago, after tough union certification drives and harassment by plant managers, things started to look up for the union and its members. The poultry industry was booming and the union had fought for and received wage hikes and other benefits.

Then, the immigrants began arriving. Native Mississippians working on the line were at first perplexed, then angry, as line-speeds increased and new jobs were filled by workers from Mexican town they had never heard of, like Oaxaca and Chiapas. The immigrants worked harder, faster, and never complained. Labor contractors brought in groups of immigrants and paid them separately from other workers, often deducting a cut for their "services." Seemingly overnight, immigrants became the majority on the line at Peco Foods and a significant part of the Sanderson Farms plant.

Under the union contract, new workers aren't allowed to join until after a ninety-day probationary period. When Carney tried to recruit immigrant workers for his union, he found that the labor contractor fired workers after exactly ninety days, only to rehire them the same day under a new name and Social Security number. He discovered that workers who complained about not receiving overtime were fired on the spot. Even after massive firings, the poultry plants were able to bring in new immigrant workers without missing production quotas.

The situation is not unique to southern Mississippi. Throughout the South, immigrants have started taking jobs in poultry and meatpacking plants in towns that, until recently, remained largely untouched by the great waves of immigration to the United States throughout the twentieth century. The impact of Latino immigration on the economy and culture of the South has been overwhelming, yet rarely examined. When the Census Bureau reported that the Latino population of the southern states had tripled from 1990 to 2000, many people who follow immigration patterns thought that the Census had actually underreported the number of Latinos in the South. In Laurel, for example, the mayor and police officials consistently estimated the Hispanic population to be around 10 percent, while the census reported only 2 percent. Laurel residents say ten years ago, there was not one Mexican restaurant in town, whereas now there are at least four, plus three Mexican grocery stores.

This unprecedented immigration to the South represents a curious twist in the logic of global capitalism. "What’s unique about poultry," Grabowski says, "is that unlike other sectors - like manufacturing - where companies have moved abroad in search of cheaper labor, poultry companies have, in effect, brought the cheap labor here. Poultry has combined the worst labor practices in agriculture with the worst practices in meatpacking."

Immigrants to small southern towns also struggle with life outside the plant. Although Mississippi has one of the lowest costs of living in the country, immigrants often pay over $1,000 a month for a rundown two-bedroom house or trailer. Rental markets in small towns in Mississippi are often controlled by a handful of landlords who gouge immigrants by charging rent per person, not per property. Under this scheme, half a dozen workers can be housed in small trailers, some without heat or running water. According to Laurel’s mayor, some poultry workers have even lived in tents by the town’s only shopping mall.

Responding to the no-match crisis

As Carney contemplated his options for responding to the situation at Peco Foods, he quickly learned more about the SSA's "no-match letter" - the reason Peco had fired Esteban. Shortly after Esteban was fired, other workers started approaching Carney telling him that they, too, had been notified that they had shown up as a "no-match" in the SSA database and would be fired within two weeks if they did nothing to correct the problem.

Carney called other LIUNA locals and an immigrants' rights group in Jackson. The "no-match" letter was not even on their radar; no one knew how to respond to the threat of mass firings other than to wish the immigrants luck in the next chicken plant. He arranged an ad-hoc meeting at the Catholic church in Laurel with some bilingual immigrants' rights advocates and asked workers to come. With less than twenty-four hours advance notice, approximately eighty workers showed up for the meeting.

After consulting with a team of lawyers and researchers from the Equal Justice Center and the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), Carney and his colleagues were finally able to get some background on the "no-match" letter. Both organizations are legal aid non-profits that represent immigrant workers with immigration and labor issues. After every tax season, Carney learned, the SSA sends letters to employees whose Social Security Numbers do not match the name reported to the SSA through the Internal Revenue Service.

According to the SSA, the original purpose of these letters was to reduce the astounding $374 billion in the SSA"s "Earnings Suspense File" (ESF), an account that holds money paid into Social Security that cannot be linked to individual workers. However benevolent SSA's intentions, the result of the government's "no-match" campaign has been a disaster for immigrant workers, a group disproportionately affected by these letters. The National Immigration Law Center (NILC) estimates that tens of thousands of workers have been fired solely on the basis of the "no-match" letter.

What makes these mass firings particularly troublesome, according to Bill Beardall, director of the Equal Justice Center, is that the SSA has no law enforcement powers and does not "share" information with government agencies like the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (the agency formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service).

Although employers are supposed to submit a copy of the letter to the employee and allow him or her to handle the issue without interference by the company, the company often fires the employee on the basis of the letter alone. In the Peco Foods case, for example, the company created its own letter, which it required employees to submit and sign, in effect forcing them to admit that they are working illegally. Once they admit to having submitted counterfeit documents to the company, they must be fired under the terms of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which prohibits employers from "knowingly" hiring undocumented workers.

None of this, of course, is explained to the immigrant, and companies such as Peco appear determined to keep immigrant workers in the dark about the "no-match" process; Peco sent out approximately sixty no-match letters last summer to immigrant workers and did not provide a Spanish translation until workers began to demand one. None of the workers were allowed to see the SSA’s original letter, which clearly states in boldface type (in English and Spanish) that the letter does not constitute grounds for any adverse action against the employee.

Furthermore, the letter states that if the employer does, in fact, take action against the employee, the company "may" (a key word whose ambivalence remains unresolved even by legal experts at NILC and the Equal Justice Center) be violating the employee's rights under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The workers were simply told - and sometimes urged on the spot - to sign the company's letter and return it to Gordo as soon as possible.

The workers at the meeting in Laurel, however, appeared determined to fight for their jobs. With some emergency training and support from Beardall, the group of immigrants' rights advocates gathered at Laurel’s Catholic church - including a freelance English teacher/translator and a Catholic seminarian - were able to explain to the workers that it would be illegal for the company to fire them without a just cause and that the "no-match letter" did not, in itself, constitute a just cause for termination.

Nevertheless, many of the immigrant workers doubted that, the company would respect their legal rights as workers. After hours of discussion in Spanish and English, it became clear that the workers held a fundamental mistrust not only of their employer - Peco Foods - but also of the governmental institutions that regulate companies' labor and safety practices. The immigrants simply could not believe that their rights would be respected by either the company or the government.

Foul-smelling victories

In a sense, immigrants are rightly skeptical of such institutions: undocumented workers are often arrested for minor crimes such as public intoxication or excessive traffic tickets and then deported. If an undocumented immigrant chooses to testify in court against an abusive employer, he or she will almost certainly be asked about his or her employment eligibility and the source of his or her documents, which are often counterfeit. This means potentially exposing the coyote who brought him or her into the country, as well as family and friends. Also, a recent decision by the Supreme Court in Hoffman Plastic v. NLRB makes it even harder for undocumented workers to win remuneration after being fired. Even when undocumented immigrants are "unjustly terminated," the court ruled, they do not have a right to sue their employer for back pay. Grabowski cites the Hoffman decision as a major factor in the Canton workers' inability to win back pay after being unjustly fired. In sum, the cards are stacked against the worker and only those with nothing to lose - such as Esteban - are willing to come forward and tell their stories.

Ultimately, the group of workers assembled at the church in Laurel decided to hand in letters to the company stating that they were aware of the no-match problem and would look into it on their own; they would not admit to having submitted a false Social Security Number, as the company had asked them to. Workers reported that when Gordo learned of the meeting, he became furious and told them they "would pay a price" and that "the union couldn't help them."

Many of the workers - and Carney - feared that Peco Foods would fire them, regardless. Surprisingly, days, then weeks went by, and Gordo took no action. The chicken hangers kept hanging chickens and the debone line kept removing bones from meat. For the immigrants and their unlikely advocate, it was a small, quiet victory over a powerful industry, an industry whose influence has done more to change the face of Mississippi than anything since the civil rights struggle.

Weeks after the "no-match" crisis had passed, I found myself back in the Peco Foods break room gazing through a window onto the plant floor. A conveyor belt with metal hooks wound around an immense room from "live hang" to "cut up," where a group of mostly Latina workers furiously separated chicken breasts from bones. The floor was like an ice-rink of chicken slime and water. The air was putrid as the smell from "further processing" - where the birds' bones, guts, and waste are boiled into animal feed - hung in the humid Mississippi air.

A group of chicken hangers came through the door for a fifteen-minute rest. Most of their break is spent doffing and donning their uniforms, which are caked in chicken excrement and chicken guts and the time left is usually spent smoking cigarettes and eating snacks from the vending machines. Two weeks after receiving their "no-match" letter, they weren't basking in their victory over Peco Foods, but contemplating other jobs in Mississippi, anywhere but in a chicken plant.

"So you don't want to stay here in Bay Springs now that you can keep your job?"

"I hear the timber industry is hiring," one said. "Beats hanging chickens."


Anything beats hanging chickens!

You know, most people that buy into the propaganda of the poultry industry don't ever stop to think about the fact that the very nature of business that these companies are involved in - torturing and killing innocent and defenseless creatures and then profiting from it - has little regard for life. There is no compassion there. There is no dignity or respect for another living creature. Why then, is anyone surprised to find out that they have no problem with treating their workers with the very same disregard and disrespect? After all, to their way of thinking, there are "many more where that came from."

To the industry, the workers (and the consumers, too, for that matter) are no more than a means to an end. A way to make money - just like cutting off the beaks of chickens and cramming them in feces-encrusted cages for their short, miserable lives, before brutally killing them and selling every part of them they can. Why does it surprise anyone that a company involved in a cruel business would act in a cruel, cold-hearted manner? Who in their right mind expects to find much compassion in those who profit from killing???
Posted by: # Virgil / 12:27 PM 0 comments Links to this post

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