HOW SLAUGHTERHOUSE WORKERS ARE IMPACTED BY THEIR JOB

In a world full of commercialism and consumerism it isn’t often that we think about where products come from or the behind the scenes of their formation. One subject that is especially void from society’s thoughts is where our meat comes from, and who has to deliver that to us. Meat has become cheap and abundant and much of this can be owed to factory farms. However, this wouldn’t be possible without the brutal and relentless work that those in slaughterhouses have to carry out day after day. This essay will take a look at the impacts that working in a slaughterhouse has psychologically and physically as well as in regards to relationships with others.

 

PSYCHOLOGICAL

Slaughterhouse workers suffer a great deal psychologically due to the violent nature of their jobs. The job is intense and fast-paced as the workers have to work as quickly as possible to meet demands, with a focus on production workers have to suppress their “spontaneous empathy” for the animals[1]. Dr Will Tuttle writes in his book, The World Peace Diet:

“Forget the pig is an animal. Treat him just like a machine in a factory.” Over and over, in the literature of animal “agriculture” and slaughterhouses, feedlots, stockyards and transport operations, one hears workers and management repeating this, like a mantra. Don’t think of it as an animal. Forget it has feelings. And the workers use every type of denigrating language and categorization possible, referring to the chickens, pigs, turkeys, cows, and other animals they kill and mutilate as stupid, stubborn, ornery, or quite simply as “motherfuckers”.[2]

The mental implications mean that workers can develop psychological disorders, specifically Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress (PITS)[3], which is a type of post-traumatic stress disorder where the worker is the causal factor, though through no fault of his own – it is what the job requires.

The desensitization that occurs can also be explained as ‘doubling’, where the workers develop dual selves – one good and one bad – as a form of coping mechanism.[4]

A pertinent quote from a slaughterhouse worker reveals the kind of mentality that these workers begin to take on:

“Down in the blood pit they say that the smell of blood makes you aggressive. And it does. You get an attitude that if that hog kicks at me, I’m going to get even. You’re already going to kill the hog, but that’s not enough. It has to suffer. When you get a live one you think, oh good, I’m going to beat this sucker.”[5]

The desensitization and stress rampant in this job not only brings about psychological problems but also more violence, not only to the animals but also to those around them.

 

RELATIONSHIPS

To those whose job it is to commit violence every day to those who are weaker than them, it is not much of a leap to say that this affects their relationships and communities as well. With a lowered ability to empathise workers become more likely to commit violent crimes, especially against women and children; the connection between animal abuse and domestic abuse is a known entity.[6] As another slaughterhouse worker describes:

“So a lot of guys at Morrell [a major slaughterhouse] just drink and drug their problems away. Some of them end up abusing their spouses because they can’t get rid of the feelings.”

It has since been found that ‘counties with slaughterhouses have higher arrest levels for sex offenses and more frequent reports of murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft, and arson’[7], it can be determined that the presence of these slaughterhouses is having a significant impact on crime rates.

Furthermore, this quote from another slaughterhouse worker bares the violent reality that these workers live in:

“I’ve had ideas of hanging my foreman upside down on the line and sticking him. I remember going into the office and telling the personnel man that I have no problem pulling the trigger on a person…Most stickers I know have been arrested for assault.”[8]

The quote exposes the mentality of these workers and how their relationships with others can become dysfunctional because of the desensitising and dehumanising work that they do. It can be concluded that the workers’ relationships are deeply affected by their jobs and the violence that is inherent in the industry.

 

PHYSICAL

Not only do slaughterhouse workers suffer psychologically from their jobs but many will be physically affected too. Working in a slaughterhouse is a dangerous job, those who are most in danger are those called ‘stickers’. An article describes this articulately:

All non-poultry livestock must be stunned before being bled out, generally with a contained bolt-gun or “knocker,” or by a large electrical shock. In many operations, however, this is rarely achieved. Foremen often tinker with the settings on knockers and electric shock guns in order to protect the quality of the meat and set line speeds to be excessively fast, leading to conscious, active animals often flying down the line towards stickers. The stickers then face the danger of being struck by the large, terrified animals. Making this more perilous, and thus more stressful, is the fact that the stickers hold sharp knives for the purpose of sticking the animals. These knives, when combined with the kicking animals, put stickers at risk of injuries ranging from the cosmetic to the gruesomely fatal.[9]

A slaughterhouse worker tells of a particularly scary incident:

“I got cut across my jugular, I was scared, scared to death. Stitches go with the territory in a packing house. I can live with stitches. I can live with getting cut once in a while. What I can’t live with is cutting my own throat”.[10]

The injuries you could expect in a slaughterhouse are tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, white finger (caused by rapid repetitive motions) as well as fatal injuries, which are made ever more likely by the increased line speeds, long hours and tiring work.[11]

Not only do workers have to be wary of physical injuries they are also subject to the diseases present in slaughterhouses. Workers can expect to be at risk of skin infections, flu, gastrointestinal infections (vomiting and diarrhea), pneumonia, meningitis, sepsis, MRSA, influenza, brucellosis, Q Fever and even lung cancer, with an increased risk of lung cancer being reported in workers.[12] Another study found that those who slaughter chickens have nine times the risk of getting pancreatic cancer and liver cancer.[13]

In addition, workers are in poor conditions, often not being allowed to leave and thus forced to urinate or defecate in their own clothes while continuing to work. Eisnitz, in his work, wrote:

“Over the course of my investigation I’d heard about workers being crushed by cattle, burned by chemicals, stabbed, breaking bones and suffering miscarriages and fainting from the heat, fast pace, and fumes… As line speeds have as much as tripled in the last fifteen years, cumulative trauma disorders have increased nearly 1000 percent.”[14]

Unsurprisingly, slaughterhouses have one of the highest employee turnover rates, even above 100%.[15] About 25% of slaughterhouse workers become ill or injured in their work[16], it is the industry that continues to exploit their workers and ignore and under regulate the working conditions so that the workers have to endure poor conditions for every day that they are there. No one should be earning a living in this way.

 

Slaughterhouses and violence are synonymous with one another. The industry not only causes great suffering to the animals, but also to the workers that they hire. The animal agriculture industry is strife with injustices, it is exploitative and harmful and perhaps it would do the world good to spread our compassion to our fellow humans who are suffering in these poor conditions right now, and the communities that are affected by this. After all, who could say no to a bit less violence in the world?

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References

1, 3, 4, 6, 11, 16 Dillard, Jennifer, A Slaughterhouse Nightmare: Psychological Harm Suffered by Slaughterhouse Employees and the Possibility of Redress through Legal Reform. Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law & Policy, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1016401
2 Tuttle, Will, (2004) The World Peace Diet. Lantern Books.
5, 8, 9, 10, 14 Eisnitz, G.A. (1997). Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.
7 Amy, J. Fitzgerald, Spill-Over from The Jungle’ into the Larger Community: Slaughterhouses and Increased Crime Rates (2006) (unpublished PhD dissertation, Michigan State University)
9 Cleeland, N. (2002). Need for Speed Has Workers Seething. Los Angeles Times.
12 OSHA, Meat Packing Industry – Hazards and Solutions [online]. URL: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/meatpacking/hazards_solutions.html
13 Batz MB, Hoffman S, Morris Jr JG. Ranking the disease burden f 14 pathogens in food sources in the United States using attribution data from outbreak investigations and expert elicitation. J Food Prot, (2012).
15 Dorovskikh, A. (2015) Killing for a Living: Psychological and Physiological Effects of Alienation of Food Production on Slaughterhouse Workers. University of Colorado.