A report recently published by the anti-poverty and injustice group Oxfam America makes some disturbing allegations about the way that assembly line workers for some of the largest U.S. poultry processing companies are treated. The findings are based on interviews with hundreds of workers for companies including Perdue, Tyson Foods and Pilgrims.

Workers said that they are often denied restroom breaks. Some say that they have been forced to "urinate and defecate" while working and have resorted to wearing diapers.

In Poultry Processing, Speed Is Paramount

The poultry processing industry is a competitive one based largely on speed. One former Occupational Safety and Health Administration employee says she witnessed conditions that included workers "making the same forceful movements thousands upon thousands of times a day, as they skin, pull, cut, debone and pack the chickens." She noted, "A typical worker handles 40 birds a minute."

OSHA has standards regarding bathroom breaks for workers. There are supposed to be enough employees available that one can take over for another who needs to use the restroom. However, according to the Oxfam report, workers sometimes have to wait for more than an hour for someone to step in for them, forcing them to relieve themselves while standing on the line or leave without permission.

Mixed Responses to the Findings

Of the poultry producers covered in the report, only Perdue and Tyson Foods responded to Oxfam. A spokesperson for Perdue said that the company allows two bathroom breaks during an eight-hour shift. She added, "If an associate has a health or other reason why they need more frequent restroom breaks, they can visit the onsite Wellness Center for support services or talk with Human Resources to request an accommodation for their condition."

A public relations official with Tyson Foods said, "We're concerned about these anonymous claims and ... are checking to make sure ... our Team Members' needs are being met."

Often, workers in assembly line positions don't know how to go about speaking up for their rights or they are afraid of losing a job they badly need to support their family. Sadly, this allows corporations that are more concerned with their bottom line than with their well-being to get away with such violations. Employment law attorneys can play a vital role in holding businesses accountable for the way they treat their workers.