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Behind the scenes of the fight for the protection of animals and workers and the preservation of the environment - my experiences as a Tyson slaughterhouse hanger/killer turned activist. Exposing the evils of factory farming, by Virgil Butler. If you have arrived here looking for the Tyson stories, view the early archives. Some of them are now featured on the sidebar for easy searching.
Saturday, August 06, 2005
we were running that were making us all sick? I was threatened with my job for
even telling my doctor, who was treating me for the illnesses I picked up from the
handling of sick chickens. Luckily, at the time, my wife spoke up anyway, defying
Tyson to do something about it, and told the doctor what was going on. Then, he
was able to give me the correct antibiotics for what I had been exposed to. Of course, he was appalled that we were running and shipping sick birds, but he couldn't tell anyone, either, because of confidentiality laws. So, Tyson got away with it over and over again. And still does.......
BTW - this occurred shortly before I lost my job down there. In fact, it was probably the illness coming back on me from repeated exposure to the pathogens that I was sick with when they fired me. I had missed 2 days and gotten my doctor's excuse, but of course, you all know that they didn't even want to see it. I still have it, though, along with the letter from the hospital sent by certified mail informing me that I needed a CAT scan on my sinuses. Unfortunately for me, that never happened because I lost my job and insurance that week, so I still don't know the long-term health effects I will have to endure from working with such a
high number of infected birds.
The dump was one place in particular where I saw two guys get nearly killed. They were under there working on something underneath the dump at startup time. The
maintenance guy had his little tag on the switch, and the supervisor just ran up there and turned the dump on anyway. He just started running cages up. If the maintenance guy hadn't ducked his head in time, he would have had it crushed between two cages of chickens.
In another situation, the guy got his leg broken when it was trapped between two
cages for the same reason. The only difference was that he was working on the roller bed instead of under it.
One of the most dangerous situations for somebody working on back dock was to try
to train a new-hire to kill.
To begin with, our killing room was a real small place. It was about one step from
the wall to the line. From the killing machine to the wall of the blood trough was about 3 steps. Now, I'm not a little guy, so with just me, the room was comfortably full. But, you add a new-hire with a razor-sharp knife, it gets overcrowded real quick.
The whole idea for me, as the experienced killer, was to teach him what to look for. That is a bit more complicated than you might think. In order for a chicken to bleed out in the short amount of time that it has, it must be cut squarely across both carotid arteries and the jugular, but not all the way through the spine.
In order for me to teach him all this, I had to put him between me and the killing machine, look over his shoulder, and try to tell him (mostly with hand gestures because of all the noise) what to cut, then catch whatever he doesn't. Most new-hires had a tendency to try to chase the line, so it worked out that their knife would come across my arm. There was no protection from it. I have been stabbed by a new-hire across the line that way. I have been badly cut once across my arm.
There is one time in particular that I remember when this guy stabbed himself in the neck. He reached for this chicken with his grabbing hand and the chicken pecked him on the arm when he grabbed for it. It made him mad. So, he drew his knife back to stab the chicken. When he drew it back real quick he stabbed himself in the neck with it. It scared everybody when they saw it, but especially me because he
only missed my throat by less than an inch when he drew that knife back.
New-hires were dangerous because Tyson pushed them too hard. They were constantly afraid of losing their jobs and the killing room was an impossible job anyway. They would just go wild with their knives, mostly because they were chasing the line trying to catch 3 or 4 chickens in a row that they had to kill. Of course, they would be nervous with new-job jitters. Although, they would concentrate on the chicken, they would not notice what else was going on. I actually saw one run
headfirst into the wall of the blood trough one time.
It was difficult to find somebody that could function in the killing room. We might keep 1 out of every 10 new-hires that went in there. Even the ones that were willing to stay had a problem with it, whether they admitted it or not. Almost all of them, without fail, went through a period of getting sick when they first came in there. Some of them would get violently ill. If you happened to be standing between them and
the bathroom when that happened, you had to watch to make sure you didn't get a knife in your guts.
It's also extremely hard to teach them to stay on the line when the chickens start spraying blood all in their face. Because of the positions of the chicken's throat
and your face, every time you cut one's throat it is going to squirt you with two streams of hot chicken blood right in the face. If you don't get two distinct
jets, then you haven't cut it right. I have never seen a new-hire that could do it without turning his face.
The killing room is particularly bad when you get a load of chickens that weren't pulled off the feeders in time. Every time you cut their throat, you are going to have blood and partially digested food coming out the hole. It will run down your arms and your hands. When the chickens flop, they will sling it on you. I have never
smelled anything that stank any worse. I have been puked on by 4 or 5 new-hires in a situation like this. It is not uncommon.
I guess it is quite obvious that this is not the type of job people do because they like it. I suppose it is also obvious that it is stressful and nasty. It is also violent and dangerous. However, all of this could be helped if it wasn't so fast-paced. The constant drive for production at any cost means literally that - at any cost.
I am glad I don't have to do this anymore. I am even more glad I will never have to do it again.
Can you believe that I did this for so long? It shows how desperate people around here are for work, though, doesn't it? There is always someone ready to take that job, no matter how bad it is. And they never let you forget that. That's why they prey on places like this. They always will because nowhere else will you find people desperate enough for work to do this.
It feels like another whole life to me now sometimes. Other times, when I write about this kind of thing or talk about it, it is like I am standing right back there in that plant, complete with all of the noise, stench, frustration, etc.
Man, I am glad I don't do that anymore. I may be financially-challenged, but I believe it is safe to say that I will never work there again! Ha ha!
We may have it tough, but I am not doing a job I am ashamed of and that is this dangerous. I certainly am not ashamed of my work anymore. It's something to be proud of. I an hold my head up high now. I am making a difference in the world that helps to make it a better, more compassionate place for all species, human and non-human alike. What better way is there to spend a life, even if you are harassed?
It's worth it. And, hey, somebody's got to do it, now don't they? Why not me?
Why not you? Can't you do at least something to make at least a small difference in the world? I bet you can. In fact, I know you can.
But, the question is, will you?