Friday, March 18, 2005

Bird flu and labor organizing

A reader sent us this from the International Labor Commuications Association:
One of the largest concentrated groups of unorganized workers in the US is largely ignored by organized labor. This proposal is for a coordinated effort to organize in this key industry.

Organizing the poultry industry would have a significant and immediate impact on the future of the labor movement and would carry national resonance on debates over the rights of workers both to organize and have real enforcement protections from state and federal agencies. Labor can simultaneously increase our membership numbers, strengthen labor's image as the advocate for working people, and increase our relevancy within minority communities.

It should be an embarrassment for Labor that a human rights organization (Human Rights Watch 'Blood, Sweat, and Fear: Workers' Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants, January 25, 2005) and the GAO (Safety in the Meat and Poultry Industry, While Improving, Could Be Further Strengthened, January 27, 2005) are the only ones speaking out against the systemic abuses in poultry. Those abuses are legion and must be addressed by Labor.
The bird flu situation should remind us that there is an important occupational health and safety issue here for poultry workers. A major population of the poultry workers is in the south. Health and safety, especially if it potentially involves the families and children of workers, is a potent organizing issue, more so than wages. The ergonomic and injury issues of great concern to poultry workers can be strengthened by adding an infectious disease that can be brought home to the list of issues. Organized labor should be alerted to this problem and begin to organize poultry workers around it. (Hat tip: Debbie)