Our VoiceHealth & Environment

Is Nothing Sacred? (Sacred Oppression)


Charlotte Williams • Jul 30, 2010

Faith-filled people bestow a level of practical reverence to the offices of pastor, deacon, lay minister, etc.  In addition to word and sacrament, protocols instruct believers and followers to concern themselves with justice, civil and human rights, community outreach and advocacy, which extends well beyond the physical walls of the church.  Those who’ve shared regarding their faith experiences, speak of a relationship with the minister (and or chaplain) that is purposeful, confidential, dictates mutual respect, and offers an anticipatory sense of hope and prophetic relief.

In what some would define as an act of blasphemy, a program initiated by a global leader in food processing offers spiritual support and edification to its oppressed and abused immigrant and low income workforce.  Tyson Foods, a company that posted 2008 revenues of nearly 27 billion dollars, and employs approximately 107,000 (an average salary of the majority of the plant workers at only $27,000USD annually), has initiated a Chaplain Services program.  This program involves some 120 part-time chaplains serving the approximately 250 Tyson plants in the U.S., Mexico and Canada.  John W. Tyson, former president and CEO of Tyson Foods, speaks highly of the work of his “faith friendly” company and its Chaplain Services program, giving it stellar accolades.  Interesting, huh?

There is a certain uneasiness about the of Tyson Foods’ Chaplaincy Program as it is described in a Tyson Foods press release.  For the faithful, pastors or ministers are called to not only preach the Good News to God’s people, but for many, the leader is called to accompany the members of the community of faith works into a ministry of justice and advocacy.  With many faith leaders, clergy and other professionals, deeply committed to those they are called to serve, it is hard to believe this understanding of chaplaincy is even remotely what occurs for workers at Tyson Foods plants.

What is the true agenda of the Tyson chaplains?  Religion, faith, and one’s spirituality have historically been used to subject people to unspeakable torture, abuse and oppression. Is Tyson so different?  Does Tyson have its chaplains in the plants to uplift, encourage, and help workers know that following God, Allah, Jehovah or Buddha means speaking out against injustice such as Jesus did in the temple when he confronted the money changers?  Are Tyson Chaplains sincerely equipped to be spiritually supportive and advocate against injustices its plants, such as repetitive motion injuries which are commonplace in a facility that processes thousands of chicken, beef or pork daily?  Workers in poultry plants can make as many as 15,000 cuts every day at line speeds that go up to 105 birds a minute.

Workers at Tyson Foods plants across this country continue to work in conditions that compromise worker safety, suffer under intimidation and threats, and work for very low-wages with no benefits.  Workers are daily subjected to excruciating repetitive motions, the unprofessional attitudes and actions of untrained supervisors and managers as they process thousands of animals on assembly lines, which exceed humane processing conditions

What are Tyson Foods chaplains saying to workers?  I’d like to have heard the plea for worker justice as they were struggling at the Tyson Jefferson plant and walked out due to months of no movement in negotiations for better wages.  Imagine the Tyson Foods chaplains talking with workers about injustices such as workers only being allowed to use the bathroom during “scheduled breaks” and, workers stating that they are not being allowed to “leave the line” for emergency bathroom runs, even with written, doctor’s orders!  Was the response filled with organizing strategies or did it have a submissive message and don’t-rock-the-boat overtone?  I suppose there was a Tyson chaplain speaking with Muslim workers “in the productions areas, break rooms, offices and hallways of many company facilities” to share with them about their rights to pray at the designated times of day without fear of reprisal or intimidation.  However, there are workers that have had to suffer and others that urinate on themselves because they are NOT allowed to leave the line as was promised.

In reality, Tyson Foods is using another intentional, racist tactic to stymie the growth and development of the workers in the plants.  This is a carefully organized attempt to suppress the power of the strong in faith through coercive acts of sacrilege and control that endorses hidden agendas. Tyson continues to oppress and hold workers under tyrannical employer’s rules.

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