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EXPOSÉ: Reporters Answer Viewer Questions

We thank reporters Franco Ordoñez, Kerry Hall and Ames Alexander for taking time to answer your questions about their story on working conditions in poultry plants. The CHARLOTTE OBSERVER recently reported on the indictment of a House of Raeford manager.

Please note that the views and opinions expressed by the reporters are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.

Can you tell us more about the roll-back on ergonomic standards. Why were they put in place? Is there any movement in Washington toward reinstating these or even tougher standards? Is there movement in Washington at all on these issues? Have concrete steps come out of the hearings your story helped spawn?

Musculoskeletal problems have long been the most common injuries in American factories. Recognizing that fact, OSHA enacted an ergonomics standard in January 2001, but Congress and President Bush repealed the regulations two months later. Some lawmakers, including Sen. Hillary Clinton, have said a new standard is needed. But most say there’s little chance that will happen before a new president takes office.

There has been movement, in Washington and elsewhere, on the issues we explored. Legislation recently approved by a U.S. Senate committee, for instance, would give government agencies more money to uncover and study the underreporting of workplace injuries.

In North Carolina, Gov. Mike Easley has spoken out against the mistreatment of poultry workers, and an influential state senator has introduced legislation aimed at keeping closer tabs on their employers.

State and federal authorities are investigating a company we wrote about.

And the head of S.C. OSHA said she will ask a special task force to study the state’s poultry industry and suggest ways to keep workers safe.


The “plant nurse” was referred to several times. Part of the professional duty of the RN is to advocate for the patient and to act in the patient’s best interests. As described, at least some of the nursing actions in these reports constitute malpractice.

If the reporters visited the Departments of Nursing at their nearest Universities, I’ll bet you that some Department Chairs, professors of Public Heath Nursing, Industrial & Organizational Nursing, and nursing ethics would tell them precisely what professional standards and statutory injunctions have been violated.

I wish some of you guys would pursue this avenue. If health professionals are pressured to act on their obligations to their clients rather than in response to the demands of their employers, some injustices can be addressed from a novel angle. (Obviously, it would be a start on other health “industry” scandals as well.)

You raise important issues. The fourth day of our series focused on the role of company nurses – and the workers who say those nurses prevented them from getting the medical care they needed.

Company nurses are often pulled in competing directions. They’re supposed to look out for the health of injured workers. But they’re not always shielded from corporate profit pressures. It’s costly for companies when workers require medical treatment after getting hurt on the job. We spoke with former company nurses who said they were encouraged to keep injured workers away from doctors.


Kudos to the reporters for an excellent expose of this disgraceful situation. It's hard to believe that there were some safeguards in place at the end of President Clinton's term but overturned by President Bush. No wonder the employee noted that OSHA works for the businesses and not the employees. Now for my question: I know there were reports in the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER about the doctors piece in this inhuman puzzle but there was no mention of what they have done to be a MAJOR part of the problem. Dr. McLellan from the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine couldn't have been any clearer in his quote. He basically said that the doctors also work for the poultry industry and not the patients. Why no emphasis on their culpability?

We have done some reporting on this issue, and we may do more. We’ve reported in a follow-up story that doctors often become popular with companies if they rarely order time off work for injured employees, or if they seldom recommend costly treatments or conclude injuries are work-related. One Atlanta lawyer told us that in more than 200 cases where he’s represented poultry workers, independent physicians gave different assessments than the company doctors.


Do you have any intentions of carrying this investigation further into the collusion of OSHA , Dept of Labor deregulating, and other industries hard hit like mining or others?

We plan to keep reporting on many issues related to the stories we’ve written this year. Please visit www.charlotte.com/poultry from time to time to look for follow-ups.


I am looking forward to seeing this EXPOSÉ:and hoping it goes into the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine's (ACOEM) role in actually allowing/ forcing the under reporting and mistreatment of injured workers.

We have not yet done extensive reporting on ACOEM’s role and history, but we’re keeping our eyes open for important issues related to the stories we’ve written so far.


Regarding workers at the poultry plants who were undocumented, about how many fell into that category? And for those who were undocumented, how many were using social security numbers purchased on the "black market" or stolen?

We reported that of the 52 current and former Latino workers at House of Raeford who spoke to us about their legal status, 42 said they were in the country illegally. Most of those would have had to purchase fake Social Security numbers in order to get their jobs. House of Raeford officials say they hire mostly Latino workers but don't knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

Federal authorities are now investigating alleged immigration violations at House of Raeford’s Greenville plant, and they’ve just indicted a human resources director who they say instructed employees to use fraudulent employment eligibility forms.


A viewer who is an MD responded to a section of the report on a worker's injury: " Of course his ankle was repaired 'with screws' that is how that type of fracture is repaired. The reporters revealed either manipulation of their audience or ignorance when they presented this as if it was aberrant."

We made no judgments about the quality of medical care in this case. We wrote about this as an example of a workplace injury that didn’t appear on company injury logs. Companies are supposed to record workplace injuries that require medical attention beyond first aid, as this injury clearly did.


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Comments

bebe: If I agree with your assumptions, then what should my first act of resistance be?
We are submerged in a milieu of denial and illusion if you are correct. Some faithful believers are ready to use violence to maintain their false beliefs. The pudding is running out the cracks. People mired in it deny its presence. But the proof is in the pudding.
You're the Bill Cosby of this pudding, bebe. How good is it?

OSHA has no teeth. Compliance would be better if the fines OSHA could levy made it harder to escape putting health and safety of a companies staff as an issue for compliance. We are fortunate that many companies do more for the safety of their workers, because they have found it beneficial. But as with everything else when the dollar is the driving force, some companies will need the alternative method to comply. OSHA should be able to levy fines that will hurt a company NOT IN COMPLIANCE. To me this is another place where regulation is necessary. And punishment should be heavy.

Companies will compete by any means they can. We have to stop having the attitude that this competition (and lowest price) can come at such high social costs to those involved in production. While company workers have been documented time and time again on these very same issues, it keeps happening from company to company. The plant in my former city, Shelbyville, TN, treated their workers so poorly that one of them took two guns to the plant to kill his supervisors. He was disarmed after two shots, if I recall correctly.

Lax regulation and enforcement of our labor and economic laws has lead to lower prices but the lower prices have just been shifted to the workers, and in the case of poultry, the farmers. Those who worship lower prices without taking the real costs into account are responsible for the cost shifts. Think about that the next time you sit down to the table, say your prayer and eat. Should you really be blessed when these things go on because politicians worship "competition" (and campaign contributions form those most offending our civil sensibilities) and lowest price without considering all of the real costs?

In my own case as a farmer, it was revealed that the regulatory agency supposed to be enforcing the law was actually lying to Congress about its enforcement. That is only half of the story. The head of the agency (Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration), JoAnn Waterfield left the agency after the OIG report came out about how the agency was being run.

This is the same complex that President Bush appointed a political operative as U.S. attorney who got Tyson off of an illegal smuggling scheme in Federal Court and then appointed the SAME U.S. attorney to be a federal judge. It is not hard to guess who is getting all the poultry cases in the district---the SAME U.S. Attorney!!!! Tyson HIRED his old law firm where he was a partner in representing themselves against federal lawsuits involving the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Act.

We have the best government money can buy!!!

Companies will compete by any means they can. We have to stop having the attitude that this competition (and lowest price) can come at such high social costs to those involved in production. While company workers have been documented time and time again on these very same issues, it keeps happening from company to company. The plant in my former city, Shelbyville, TN, treated their workers so poorly that one of them took two guns to the plant to kill his supervisors. He was disarmed after two shots, if I recall correctly.

Lax regulation and enforcement of our labor and economic laws has lead to lower prices but the lower prices have just been shifted to the workers, and in the case of poultry, the farmers. Those who worship lower prices without taking the real costs into account are responsible for the cost shifts. Think about that the next time you sit down to the table, say your prayer and eat. Should you really be blessed when these things go on because politicians worship "competition" (and campaign contributions form those most offending our civil sensibilities) and lowest price without considering all of the real costs?

In my own case as a farmer, it was revealed that the regulatory agency supposed to be enforcing the law was actually lying to Congress about its enforcement. That is only half of the story. The head of the agency (Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration), JoAnn Waterfield left the agency after the OIG report came out about how the agency was being run.

This is the same complex that President Bush appointed a political operative as U.S. attorney who got Tyson off of an illegal smuggling scheme in Federal Court and then appointed the SAME U.S. attorney to be a federal judge. It is not hard to guess who is getting all the poultry cases in the district---the SAME U.S. Attorney!!!! Tyson HIRED his old law firm where he was a partner in representing themselves against federal lawsuits involving the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Act.

We have the best government money can buy!!!

You might want to check on the use of carbon fiber for airplane construction.
Manufacturing processes cause carbon fiber dust in the air which can cause no end of health problems.
Hydrocarbons are a persistant health threat.
Air polutants are replacing the oxygen in the air. At the rate things are going; everyone will need oxygen cannisters to survive. There will be all kinds disasters as people fight to have enough oxygen to survive. If we are going to have a future; we will need to solve our air polution problems NOW!

Observer reporters: Did you see Charlotte Now (Channel 46) with usally reserved commentator Mike Collins of July 15th in which the contamination of poultry with MRSA (ustoppable flesh-eating bacteria) was discussed. The scientist has proven that MRSA from poultry and other meats encysts in the consumer's bone tissue, only to revive at times of stress. How wonderful our modern carnal foodstream! Are you chicken to investigate?

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