Our VoiceHealth & Environment

Meat-Packing Workers Coalesce after Attack by Supervisor

Carlos Rich • Jul 12, 2011

As many of us know, immigrants are often exploited in the workplace, but many of us aren’t privy to the severe impunity, even physical violence, that their supervisors sometimes display.

Such was the case a couple weeks ago when a supervisor at a meat packing plant threw the head of a hog head at a worker, badly injuring his wrist.  We’ll call the injured worker “Pablo,” so we can protect his real identity.

This is just one example of numerous similar incidents that have occurred across the US, but there was maybe something different about this case—this was the first time in ages that workers in this particular plant were united by their outrage.

The workers immediately rallied around Pablo, all of them marching together to the human resources office to demand the supervisor’s dismissal. Afterward, some of the workers described a feeling of empowerment, and the realization not that they could, but that they actually can make a difference in each others’ lives.

This got them describing the protest scene to me: how over 500 workers tried to pack the small HR office, many of them overflowing into the dining area, pushing their way to the front of line, imploring that their HR director dismiss the offending supervisor.  Meanwhile, the management team stood by promising the workers that they would be reprimanded, even fired, if they didn’t return to work immediately.

Most ignored their order, chanting in unison: “Fire him! Fire him! Fire him! Fire him!”

Now, I’ve been working with these workers in for the last three years, and I just can’t express how encouraged and enlivened I was upon hearing how they were able to stand together in the face of an unjust act.  When immigrants in the workplace are intimidated by a manager or by any individual in positions of power, a point will always come when we must say “enough.” All of us must be ready to support any and all workers whenever they find themselves in any situation that compromises their dignity, not to mention their health and safety.

Regardless of the swell of support he received, Pablo decided not to have the supervisor fired.

Even considering their support, even though he’s been working at the plant for twenty odd years, Pablo was afraid to speak out on his own behalf. He believes that after enough time passes, the plant will eventually find a way to fire him; therefore, he told the HR director that, perhaps, the incident could have simply been an accident.

And with that, he simply went to the nurse’s station.

At times, we as workers must take the high road, yes, but Pablo needs to denounce this supervisor; however, in order to do so, Pablo must feel secure. It’s a tragedy that he doesn’t feel safe to do so.

His fellow workers were disappointed that he didn’t follow through on their wave of support. Many seemed to agree, explaining to me that this would have been a great opportunity to show management their strength, and how they are tired of being mistreated day-in, day-out.

The protest wasn’t in vein, though.

Both management and the workers themselves have recognized the organizing power present in the plant, as has occurred elsewhere. At present, the issue with the supervisor is still pending outcome. Regardless, the workers now realize that they are stronger together, and that their strength will only be magnified as they further organize themselves.

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