This chapter opens with a tour of a slaughterhouse “somewhere in the High Plains.” Schlosser observes the crowded, bloodied plant and the process that turns live cattle into what we are used to seeing in the grocery store. Meatpacking has become the most dangerous job in America. Unlike poultry plants, in which almost all tasks are performed by machines, most of the work in a slaughterhouse is done by hand. Hazards of the job include injuries from the various machines and knives, strain to the body from poor working conditions, and even methamphetamine use in order to keep up with the production line. Women face the added threat of sexual harassment.
The cleaning crew that comes at night contends with equally hazardous conditions. The crew cleans the plant
with a high-pressure mixture of water and chlorine, heated to 180 degrees. The slaughterhouse becomes foggy
and visibility is severely diminished. Crew members must stand on running machinery to clean it. People
routinely get sick from the fumes, and become injured in the dangerous working conditions.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was desperately under-funded in 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected President. However, the Reagan administration further reduced OSHA’s authority. As OSHA inspections became less frequent, more people became injured or died in the meatpacking industry. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, legal battles made these issues public.
In addition to the high-injury rate in slaughterhouses, it has become more difficult to obtain workers’ comp when injured. In the final section of this chapter, Schlosser interviews employees who have sustained serious injuries in the meatpacking industry. Each of the men Schlosser talks with was severely injured on the job, either because of an accident or because of the long-term working conditions. It becomes clear that the industry does not value the safety and well-being of its employees and frequently forces its workers to make decisions that result in dire consequences for their health.
Notes - The purpose of this chapter is to consider how human actors in the meatpacking industry are damaged because of the way plants are managed. Schlosser demonstrates what the specific hazards are (dangerous machinery, impractical expectations for production, poor working conditions, etc.). Schlosser also places some blame on the Reagan administration for undoing the advances that had been made for workers since the beginning of the twentieth century. In interviewing employees that had been injured, Schlosser attempts to give the worker a voice—however, he does not attempt to present dissenting opinions (such as workers who might be satisfied with their employment); Schlosser also does not consider, carefully, why people might choose to work in the meatpacking industry or what their other options are (or are not).