# Worker Safety

My son's school wants me to buy Tyson foods

cross-posted at La Vida Locavore and the EENR progressive blog

My son just started kindergarten in the Des Moines public system. His school has a wonderful and caring staff, and he is having a great time, as he did in the pre-school program there.

Unfortunately, like almost all public schools these days, this school relies on fundraising by the parents’ group to pay for essential school supplies.

The parents’ group decided years ago not to have our kids sell chocolate or wrapping paper or some other overpriced product to raise money, and I appreciate that.

They have opted this year to participate in the Tyson Project A+ label collection program, which is sponsored by Tyson Foods, Inc.

A sheet went home with my son encouraging parents to clip and save Tyson Project A+ labels, which are worth 24 cents each for the school:

Through this program, we can raise as much as $12,000 for our school this year! The money we raise can go towards buying books or computers, making improvements to our buildings, or anything else that we want.

Here is a list of 53 Tyson chicken products with labels I can clip and collect for the school.

Most Tyson chicken products contain meat from birds that have been treated with antibiotics, which may be a leading contributor to drug-resistant bacteria.

Tyson fired several employees earlier this year following reports of excessive cruelty at two of its factories.

Two years ago, Tyson had to pay $1.5 million in back pay for hiring discrimination. In 2002, the U.S. Department of Labor sued the company for pay practices that violated the Fair Labor Standards Act. In 2005, Tyson Foods paid the state of Kentucky $184,515 to settle six cases related to worker safety, including one that stemmed from a fatal accident.

Tyson also has a history of profiting from the employment of illegal immigrants. In fact, some of its managers were involved in recruiting illegal immigrants to work at Tyson factories, which led to a

36-count federal indictment that prosecutors obtained against Tyson in December 2001. The company was charged in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga with having, among other things, engaged in an elaborate seven-year scheme to recruit hundreds, if not thousands, of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala for its poultry plants in at least 12 states. Six of Tyson’s mid-level executives or plant managers were also indicted. But in the end, even though Tyson was benefiting from illegal workers laboring in its plants, the executives avoided conviction.

It was the most ambitious criminal immigration case ever against an employer. Prosecutors demanded $100 million as a forfeiture penalty that they said represented the company’s ill-gotten gains. The transcript for the six-and-a-half-week trial ran 5,464 pages. On March 26, the jury rendered its verdict: not guilty on all counts.

The sting had caught several Tyson managers or their assistants on audiotape and videotape plotting to recruit and hire illegal aliens for several plants, including the one at Shelbyville. Seven Tyson employees, whom the company eventually fired, had quietly pleaded guilty to immigration-related offenses.

During the late 1990s, Tyson employed 67,000 workers at 55 poultry plants. Court testimony established that a number of those workers were illegal, some hired directly and some through temp agencies.

I buy chicken directly from sustainable farmers or from the Wholesome Harvest coalition of small organic family farmers, which has been endorsed by the Organic Consumers Association. I don’t like feeling pressure to buy Tyson chicken products in order to pay for classroom supplies and school improvements.

Inadequate funding for public schools is the root of this problem. The parents’ group organizes several fundraising projects during the year, including a chili supper and silent auction which is always a success. But it’s not easy to raise significant funds without urging kids to sell products people don’t need. A concert for the school, featuring a famous children’s artist, lost money two years ago.

Programs like Tyson Project A+ probably seem like a good deal to parents who would be buying some of these foods anyway. For my part, I plan to donate $50 directly to the parents’ group. I’d have to buy more than 200 Tyson products to raise an equivalent amount through this label collection program.

UPDATE: Thanks to ragbrai08, who noted that I forgot to mention Tyson’s settlement with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in November 2006 “for $871,000 on behalf of black workers who alleged that they were racially harassed and retaliated against at a chicken processing plant in Ashland, Alabama.”

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Culver: Agriprocessors owners have "deliberately chosen to take the low road"

Governor Chet Culver took the unusual step of publishing a guest editorial in the Sunday Des Moines Register about alleged wrongdoing at the Agriprocessors meat-packing plant in Postville:

The sad events surrounding the [May 12] federal Postville raid, resulting in multiple federal criminal-law convictions of line workers and low-level supervisors – and, notably, not yet of the company’s owners – are strong evidence of a company that has chosen to take advantage of a failed federal immigration system.


Before the federal raid, Agriprocessors already had a history of sanctions by Iowa’s state regulatory agencies for water pollution, as well as health and safety law violations. Alarming information about working conditions at the Postville plant – including allegations ranging from the use of child labor in prohibited jobs to sexual and physical abuse by supervisors; from the nonpayment of regular and overtime wages to the denial of immediate medical attention for workplace injuries – brought to national attention by the raid forces me to believe that, in contrast to our state’s overall economic-development strategy, this company’s owners have deliberately chosen to take the low road in its business practices.

He said he had directed members of his cabinet to make sure Iowa law is being enforced with Agriprocessors. Furthermore, open positions at Agriprocessors may not be included on state job-listing services “due to the unsafe working conditions at the Postville facility.” In addition, he called on Attorney General Tom Miller “promptly to prosecute all alleged criminal and civil-law violations that are backed by sufficient evidence.”

On Friday the Iowa Division of Labor Services released a statement citing 31 new and repeated safety violations at Agriprocessors’ plant in Postville.

If any Bleeding Heartland readers keep kosher, you may be interested in this piece by Lynda Waddington for Iowa Independent. She describes a “kosher social seal” program, which signifies that food not only meets Jewish ritual requirements but has also been produced in a humane and socially responsible manner.

Meanwhile, John Carlson reports in his latest Des Moines Register column that a local radio personally has written lyrics called “Palau to Postville – a Topical/Tropical Tale.” They are meant to be sung to the tune of the Gilligan’s Island theme. He was inspired by “reports last week that an employment recruiter has been trying to entice people in the Pacific island of Palau to come to work for the [Agriprocessors] plant.”

UPDATE: A spokesman for Agriprocessors says the company is drafting “a forceful response to the governor’s guilty verdict even before trial.”

The same article goes on to say:

Several business and political experts said Culver’s criticism was unusual, but they applauded it.

“I think it’s out of the ordinary. But then again, I think Agriprocessors is a little out of the ordinary, too,” said Mike Ralston, president of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry.

Ralston’s group includes most large Iowa employers, but not Agriprocessors. He said he wouldn’t want Culver to make a habit of publicly criticizing specific businesses. However, he said Agriprocessors’ notoriety has damaged the state’s reputation, making it fair game for the governor’s ire.

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