Working Conditions

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After examining 3 meatpacking plants, the Human Rights Watch said Tuesday that the U.S. is failing to protect that labor force. A meat industry official dismissed the group as "way off mark" in its 175-page report titled "Blood, Sweat and Fear: Workers' Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants." The American Meat Institute's said that they would need many pages to correct the "falsehoods and baseless claims."

The Human Rights Watch report contends that workplace risks and exploitation, especially of immigrants, are not occasional employer lapses. The authors described what they called "systematic human rights violations embedded" in the fast-paced, high-volume meat and poultry industries. Most of the report's concerns have been highlighted by news reports and area worker rights groups. But immigrant advocates said the weight behind Human Rights Watch provides new ammunition. "It ups the ante because it focuses on human rights obligations in international treaties," said Lourdes Gouveia, an Omaha sociologist whose immigration research was cited in the report.

Human Rights Watch is a privately funded group whose goal are to hold governments accountable if they violate the rights of their people. There researchers said they interviewed meatpacking workers and examined injury reports, government and academic studies, newspaper reports and legal proceedings. They cited unsafe working conditions, denial of workers' compensation to those injured on the job, intimidation of those seeking to organize unions and exploitation of immigration status to ward off complaints. Two of three corporations used as case studies responded to the researchers: Tyson Foods, on its Arkansas poultry plant, and Smithfield Foods on a North Carolina pork plant. Phone calls from The World Herald to the third corporation, Omaha-based Nebraska Beef, were not returned. All three firms have operations in Nebraska. The American Meat Institute disputed many aspects of the report. Boyle, the...
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