The Sad Business of Poultry Processing

Last month, I accepted a job working as “Orientation Trainer” at one of the country’s largest poultry processing companies. I had been considering a career move to a Human Resources position and thought that this might be a good career move for me. In my previous job, which was downsized after five years, I had the responsibility of interviewing contractors, submitting paperwork and onboarding them. As Office Manager in a small office, I was in touch with them at all hours and helped them gain an understanding of their job.

So, what is an Orientation Trainer, you ask? First, some background. Poultry processing (a nice euphemism for chicken slaughter and cutting) is not pleasant work. The plant literally stinks. I actually thought I was going to toss my cookies due to the smell. It never did happen because I learned how to breathe through my mouth when walking in certain areas of the plant. The plant is very cold and the employees who work on the production floor perform their tasks repetitively for long hours and are subject to meeting very high metrics. Then there are the employees who work at the “kill plant.” They’re the lucky ones who work mostly third shift stunning and slaughtering the birds.

Poultry processing plants rely on workers who have nothing to lose. Many of the employees I encountered were ex-cons, most have less than a high school education and some are immigrants and addicts in recovery. For the record, I believe that these populations deserve a second chance; however, these companies know that they need a job and exploit them. I also want to state that I believe in a living wage. If you have a family to support, you should be making at least $15.00 hour for a 40-hour workweek, especially in the harshest conditions, such as poultry processing.

The poultry processing plant where I worked will hire you as long as you pass a drug test. You go for a short interview, tour the plant and then discuss jobs available and you must sign an agreement that you have accepted a certain position and this cannot be altered during your probationary period. Orientations begin every Monday and last five days. If you come on a Friday for an interview, you are scheduled for an in-house drug test as soon as possible. If you’re cleared, you begin the following Monday for orientation.

On the first day of orientation, you are asked to read the code of conduct, the employee manual and submit your I-9 documentation. I saw quite a few employees who could not read or write or who could not provide proper documentation. Those who couldn’t produce documentation were cut from orientation. A class of 20 usually dwindled to 15 after the first few days. At orientation, the employees learned that they will be treated like children. They were required to put their phones in a locked box during class. They were also required to answer questions based on the many Powerpoint presentations and videos they watched. Some of these employees were not able to comprehend and missed questions. If you missed the questions, you were reprimanded and asked if you really wanted this job.

Tuesdays through Friday afternoons the class was sent out to the production floor. Water was not provided because the only manager who had authority to purchase it was on vacation. I actually bought drinks for the class on more than one occasion.

Admittedly, I didn’t know much about these kinds of jobs. I had known people who started out working these kinds of jobs when that was all that was available. Some of the people working in jobs like these are older people, people with disabilities and those who have no other choices in life. Those people should not be treated with the kind of disrespect I witnessed. They should be paid better and they should be treated like people with dignity.

So, what does an Orientation Trainer do? My job was to read Powerpoint presentations to the class and show slides while assembling paperwork. I was hired with no experience in the poultry processing industry. I hadn’t even gone on a tour of the plant before I was hired or anytime during my employment. I was the one who was expected to orient the class to the company, yet I had no real-life experience or training to do so. I felt like an outsider, someone who was hired to babysit the class. Many days I was left on my own with a class that had legitimate questions that I was not able to answer. Why wasn’t the job of Orientation Trainer filled from within the company? I’m quite sure there are intelligent, competent adults working in production who would have loved that job and would have done it so much better, as they would have been able to relate their real-life experiences to the class.

I felt bad for my classes. I knew they were being shortchanged by having a trainer who was not trained. I wanted to be able to help them, but in the end, all I could do was help the ones who didn’t read and buy them water when they were thirsty. I hope that they find a job in which they are treated with respect.

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June 25, 2018

I will never forget yesterday as long as I live and have cognition. Yesterday, 6/25/18 is the day that I almost became a widow at the age of 54. Yeah, I know 54 is not young, but it’s not 74 or 84, either.

I now know what it feels like to wonder how I will manage without my husband. To try to remember where he said all of the important papers are. To frantically search through his pants pockets to find his wallet that has his I.D. and insurance card while the paramedics lift his almost lifeless body onto a stretcher. To be the frantic spouse who calls 911 and attempts to calmly explain that her husband is not responsive while wanting to shout, “just get the ambulance here, damnit!” I know what it’s like to sit in the crowded hospital ER waiting room and rehash the previous hour’s events and pray that you don’t see a grim-faced doctor striding towards you.

For over three hours, I didn’t know if my husband was going to live. The outlook wasn’t good. He had not been feeling well and a trip to the ER two days prior was supposed to be the beginning of his recovery.

So much has happened in the past three weeks that it’s almost impossible not to believe that through some sick twist of fate or some carefully orchestrated plans,  I was here for a reason.  You see, I lost my job on 6/12/18. My full-time job was reduced to part-time and then finally it became a no-time job. It’s been a difficult transition, but a transition that has given me the opportunity to be at home and help out around the house. I thought then that perhaps there was a deeper reason or meaning to what was happening. Even prior to 6/12/18, my husband’s health started to deteriorate rapidly and I found myself simultaneously job hunting and trying to hold it together at home.

I accepted a job offer which gave me two weeks before the start date and last week, with the urging of my husband, I planned a trip to visit family out of state. Hubby’s health continued to decline and he couldn’t walk even a short distance without becoming winded. I canceled my trip last Wednesday and didn’t look back. Monday, 6/25/18, was the day I was supposed to be driving 700 miles alone while he stayed behind. Sure, he said, he could make it without me. He’s proud like that and not much scares him. I told him that while I appreciated his unselfishness, I couldn’t leave him.

If I had, he would surely be dead.

Thanks to God or the universe or whoever intervened. He is in the hospital where the experts can hopefully find out what happened. In the meantime, I’ll never forget 6/25/18. I will never forget finally being allowed to see him, not knowing if he would be able to talk or see or breathe on his own. When I turned the corner to his room and saw him sitting up looking at his phone, I have never been more thankful and grateful.

Racism in 2018

This post is not what some of my readers will expect. I try to present a well-balanced viewpoint. Sure, I am what some may call a liberal. I believe in separation of church and state, the rights of gay people to marry and have/adopt children, keeping abortion legal and safe and I generally “side” with the left on a host of other “hot button” topics.

I want to talk today about what racism is and what it is not. I want to talk about what it looks like and I also want to talk about institutional racism and how that differs from what we all see in our social media feeds and on the nightly news.

Recently I have seen a video circulating of a white woman calling the authorities about a black family barbecuing in the park in California. I have also heard of an incident of another white woman reporting a black student for sleeping in a forbidden area of campus at college. And of course, there is the infamous Starbucks incident where three black men were arrested for allegedly doing nothing.

Many of my friends are circulating these videos and these news stories on social media decrying racism. Is it fair to affix a label of racist to a person because they have a possible legitimate concern with the activities of a person of color? I say no. Is it possible that these incidents were somehow a result of latent racism or simply white privilege in action? Sure, it’s possible. Each one of these incidents and others like them should be viewed individually and with as few preconceived notions as possible.

I will never, ever defend the shooting or maiming of an innocent person by law enforcement. I will not defend name-calling and spewing hatred towards an individual based on the color of their skin, the language they speak or who they choose to love.  Should we ignore minorities who have blatant disrespect for laws, rules and/or ordinances? No, but they should not be singled out, either.

As progressives, it is important to stay focused on what is important. Let’s direct our energy towards increasing the number of Democrats in our local governments. Let’s help struggling families by stocking our food banks and electing school boards that care about public education. Spending time reposting videos and memes of supposed racists does absolutely nothing. It just makes us look as vindicative and mean-spirited as the people we’re shaming.

 

The cult of Jack Pearson

Jack Pearson is a fictional character. He is the patriarch of the Pearson family, the family many of us have let into our living rooms every Tuesday night. For those avid fans, I have to preface this by advising you not read further if you have not seen the episode that aired after the Super Bowl this past Sunday.  SPOILER ALERT!!!

I watched the episode and like many, cried tears of grief along with Rebecca when she went to Jack’s hospital room and discovered that he did die from a heart attack brought on by smoke inhalation. Rebecca refused to believe the doctor who stopped her at the vending machine to break the bad news of Jack’s untimely and unexpected passing.  Of course, the fans everywhere had been speculating for months about his death, as we had been teased in so many episodes.

Reality aside, I want to talk about the character of Jack Pearson. Why do men and women alike love him so much? Why are millions of Americans sobbing about the death of a fictional character? The obvious answer is that he was relatable. The family is relatable. Blue collar Pittsburghers meet in a bar, fall in love, get pregnant with triplets, lose a baby, gain an African American son (the very same day!), raise children, and deal with life as it’s thrown at them. Jack Pearson, through all of the heartache and all of the family struggles, is steadfast in his love and devotion to his family. He’s a hard worker, he loves and worships his wife, he treats his children with love and respect and best of all, he loves his daughter and constantly reminds her that she is beautiful JUST THE WAY SHE IS. Kate, the daughter, has a weight problem. She is teased by other girls at the pool. Jack loans her his shirt so she can cover up, never once making her feel that she is anything less. He adores his sons Kevin and Randall and never once do you see him raise his voice or lose his patience. He is perfect. He is also the perfect husband, working hard at his job, working around the house, surprising his family with trips and presenting a united front with Rebecca. He is handsome, romantic and always cheerful. The fact that Jack has a drinking problem and is an admitted alcoholic is always tucked away in the series and attempts to show that Saint Jack is not perfect after all. Oh, but I disagree. He goes to AA meetings and readily admits to his ER doctor that he cannot have pain pills because he’s a substance abuser. Jack never sneaks pills. Jack doesn’t look at other women and Jack doesn’t yell at his kids.  Jack ultimately saves his entire family and family pet but in doing so, inadvertently took his own life.

Jack is like Jesus. As you see him emerge from the house in flames, you see him carrying the family dog, rising out of the ashes like a phoenix.

We like to see characters we can relate to and there is something to be said for losing yourself in the life of another family for an hour per week. However, we must be careful. I have heard so many women say that they wish their husbands were more like Jack. I have wished that I had a father who was so accepting. My father has personal issues with weight and he passed that on to me. He is not perfect, but he’s my father and he’s all that I have. I love him despite his faults.  It is so tempting to compare the reality of our own dysfunctional relationships with the relationships we see created for our consumption on television or in the movies. There is a reason women like to read romance novels and that’s fine. If we women heard our husbands longingly wish that we were more like Rebecca, we’d be rightfully hurt. The same goes for our husbands, our sons, our daughters and our fathers. They are real people with faults. They’re not Jack and Rebecca or Randall, Kevin or Kate. I love the Pearsons, too. There isn’t anything wrong with that. It’s when I start to feel sad for my own father daughter relationship that I need to question my own reality and accept it for what is in, warts and all.

I knocked on the door of every church here in town

to find me some guidance and hope and for grace

some doors opened widely and many faces appeared

with friendly fake smiles like they’re all coached to do

and offer me T shirts and mugs full of brew

some doors were opened more slowly than those

and said nothing to me as the welcome bells chimed

finding a seat in the back on the hard wooden pew

to shake hands with some strangers and sing some old songs

then quietly slipping out the front door with no words

left alone to wonder alone why the old church seems cold

but the megachurch people want to be your best friend

it’s hard to keep searching, this quest for a place

that respects your own space and Jesus is love, not hate

 

 

 

 

Losing Icons

I am 53 years old. Over the past couple of years, many of my childhood icons have been dying. Some are dying natural deaths due to old age and/or incurable disease, but some have died tragically. This past year, the deaths of many “celebrities” have forced me to come to terms with my own mortality and it’s not pretty.

As far as I know, I have pretty decent health. I only take one prescription medication and that’s a low dose blood pressure pill. I have gone off my Wellbutrin which was prescribed for ADHD. I am, by nature, a morbid person. I think about death a lot. I think about my own death, how and when it will happen. I think about the deaths of others, especially those who die tragically “before their time.”

My husband was recently very affected by the death of one of his favorites, David Bowie. David was 70 years old and had cancer. He kept his illness private, so many of us were shocked when he died, including me. That happened at the end of 2016. This year, we have lost Chester Bennington, Chris Cornell, Mary Tyler Moore, Gregg Allman, David Cassidy, Tom Petty, Malcolm Young, Walter Becker and many more. Tom Petty hit me very hard. I am a huge fan of his and always thought one day I would love to see him and The Heartbreakers play live. I have said that often about musical groups such as Steve Miller, another one of my favorites.  Well, Steve is getting up there in age and who knows when he will go? Who knows when any of us will go?

Many of the stars who have passed that I didn’t mention were around the same age as my parents. I am lucky to still have both of my parents, but they are not young anymore. Many people might read this and think that I am naive or in denial about the aging process, death, etc. I’m not. It just takes something drastic sometimes to really bring it into the light. Or dark, if you will.