Today, the meatpacking industry comprises an important part of the national economy of the US. In actuality, America’s meat industry is the nation’s largest agricultural sector and sales of meat and poultry exceed $100 billion a year in the U.S (Blood, Sweat, and Fear, 2005). Therefore, the meatpacking industry involves a large number of employees but the process of meatpacking still remains being quite dangerous. At any rate, even modern meatpacking plants fail to eliminate risks to health of employees and the risk of injuries persists affecting many employees working in meatpacking plants. The situation is deteriorated by the employment of immigrants in meatpacking plants, often on the illegal basis, which leads to the ignoring of existing safety standards established and controlled by state agencies, such as OSHO. Nevertheless, in pursuit of profits meatpacking plants prefer to sacrifice with health of employees rather than increase safety that will need substantial investments and improvements in the workplace environment. However, the improvement of safety standards in the meatpacking industry is not just the matter of costs but also and mainly it is the matter of human rights protection because the existing safety standards and practices in the meatpacking industry violate human rights of employees and put their health and life at risk.
In actuality, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the animal slaughtering and processing industry employed a total of 506,000 people at the close of 2005 (Blood, Sweat, and Fear, 2005). In such a way, the animal slaughtering and processing industry employs a large number of people, who work in meatpacking plants. At the same time, the average earnings of production workers that year was $11.47 an hour, about 30 percent less than the average wage for all manufacturing jobs in the U.S (Blood, Sweat, and Fear, 2005). Obviously, such a position of employees working in the meatpacking industry is disadvantageous, especially taking into consideration risks associated with their work. In such a context, employees working in the meatpacking industry need additional protection in terms of workplace safety and health care coverage.
Obviously employers tend to protect their own interests and they are not interested in the protection of employees or improvement of safety standards because this step will need the rise of spending on workplace safety. In such a situation, employees need to protect themselves but, to force employers to improve working conditions, employees need to develop their unions. However, according to REAP, a union-affiliated group, union membership among meat packing employees has plunged from 80 percent in 1980 to less than 50 percent today (Blood, Sweat, and Fear, 2005). What is meant here is the fact that employees are less protected today because they do not have union membership that decreases not only the protection of employees, who are not union members, but also those employees, who are, because the low share of employees union members decreases the role of unions in the industry.
The decrease of union membership in the US meatpacking industry results from the employment of a large number of immigrants, from Latin America mainly. According to the USDA, the percentage of Hispanic meat-processing workers rose from less than 10 percent in 1980 to nearly 30 percent in 2000 (Waves, 2006). The rise of the immigrant population among meatpacking plants’ employees contributes to the decrease of union membership, wages, and safety standards. Immigrant employees are ready to work for lower wages and in more risky workplace environment than native-born American employees because the latter have higher safety standards and more concerned with their health and life, whereas immigrants arrived from countries with substantially lower standards of living and are ready to work in the US, regardless of working conditions.
In such a situation, it is quite natural that the number of injuries in the meatpacking industry rises. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there was an average of 12.6 injuries or illnesses per 100 full-time meat packing plant employees in 2005, a number twice as high as the average for all U.S. manufacturing jobs (Blood, Sweat, and Fear, 2005).
However, the safety of workplace environment is not a mere matter of costs but also it is the matter of human rights. In early 2005, Human Rights Watch released a report entitled “Blood, Sweat, and Fear: Workers’ Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants” which concluded that the working conditions in America’s meat packing plants were so bad they violated basic human and worker rights (Blood, Sweat, and Fear, 2005).
On conducting the in-depth study, the Human Rights Watch developed recommendations for protecting workers in the meat and poultry industry include, which are as follows: new federal and state laws to reduce production line speeds; stronger state regulations to halt underreporting of injuries; stronger worker compensation laws and enforcement of anti-retaliation laws; U.S. labor law compliance with international standards on workers’ freedom of association; new laws ensuring workers’ safety regardless of their immigration status (Gonzalez, 2005).
Basically, the aforementioned recommendations may be quite efficient but not sufficient to enhance safety in the workplace in meatpacking plants. What is meant here is the fact that the aforementioned recommendations imply the enhancement of existing regulations and the provision of employees’ safety regardless of their immigration status. However, the recommendations provided by the Human Rights Watch still fail to tackle several key issues, such as the low wages of employees and the decrease of union membership. The latter is strategically important for employees working in the meatpacking industry because unions are the most efficient power that can protect interests of employees. What is meant here is the fact that the introduction of new laws and enhancement of existing regulations can bring positive effects to the meatpacking industry and to improve the position of employees working in meatpacking plants. However, these measures will not be as effective as unions’ activities. Obviously, the introduction of new laws at the state and, especially, federal level is too complicated and takes a lot of time, whereas employees can never be certain that legislators will implement laws that really meet their interests and improve working conditions or increase the safety of their work. In such a way, the introduction of new laws is quite rigid measure, which is not always effective. At the same time, unions can respond fast and effectively on any changes introduced by employers in relation to employees and safety of the workplace environment. This means that unions can respond faster and more effectively than legislators.
In addition, unions know needs of employees and current working conditions. Therefore, they know needs of their member-employees better than any organization, including the Human Rights Watch. Consequently, unions can develop policies and recommendations to legislators, which are more accurate and efficient in terms of employees’ safety than recommendations provided by the Human Rights Watch. However, the recommendations of the Human Rights Watch mentioned above do not imply the enhancement of unions in the meatpacking industry. This is why these recommendations are not efficient in terms of fast and consistent improvement of the position of employees in meatpacking plants, working conditions and safety in the workplace environment.
Finally, the recommendations provided by the Human Rights Watch fail to develop efficient tools and mechanisms of control over changes made by employers in the meatpacking industry and the accurate implementation of legislative changes suggested by the Human Rights Watch. In stark contrast, unions could maintain the permanent and effective control over the position of employees, safety of workplace environment and observation of laws by employers. However, the recommendations provided by the Human Rights Watch fail to enhance the position of unions.
Thus, it proves beyond a doubt that the position of employees working in the meatpacking industry is difficult and needs consistent improvements. Employees working in the meatpacking industry need the higher safety and protection but the legislative changes recommended by the Human Rights Watch are not enough to improve the current situation in the meatpacking industry in terms of the protection of human rights.

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