Fast Food Nation | Study Guide

Eric Schlosser

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Fast Food Nation | Part 2, Chapter 8 : Meat and Potatoes (The Most Dangerous Job) | Summary


Key Takeaways

  • In this chapter Eric Schlosser demonstrates the physical and psychological dangers of slaughterhouse jobs, the toll on workers, and the meatpacking companies' failure to protect workers.
  • Meatpacking is now America's most dangerous profession, with an injury rate three times higher than the rate at other factories.
  • Every year at least one of every four (and probably more) meatpacking workers suffers a work-related illness or injury requiring "medical attention beyond first aid." With much of the work still done by hand, workers' most common injuries are knife lacerations, which happen frequently.
  • IBP's emphasis on a fast "disassembly line" is responsible for most hazards and injuries. Faster pace means higher profit. Working very close together at great speed, employees can lose control of their knives, and a simple mistake can cause injuries to themselves and others.
  • Further, the pressure of keeping up the pace has led to widespread methamphetamine drug use among meatpackers.
  • Many workers are employed "at will" and can be fired for any reason. Many are undocumented immigrants who desperately need their jobs, and most do not have union representation.
  • Managers discourage workers from reporting injuries and seeing doctors.
  • Production supervisors are pressured to meet production goals and keep recorded injuries low.
  • Supervisors often abuse their power and sexually harass their employees. Some employees have consensual sex with supervisors to gain job security.
  • The late-night cleaning crews in slaughterhouses have perhaps "the worst job in the United States." They work in high temperatures with limited visibility and can be killed on the job by dangerous machines.
  • In 1981 President Ronald Reagan's administration relaxed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA's) oversight of manufacturing plants. OSHA could now follow a "voluntary compliance" policy. Instead of inspecting plants, OSHA representatives looked at injury logs to determine the plant's safety.
  • IBP executives frequently failed to report serious worker injuries. Lawsuits and federal investigations had little effect on IBP's practices. Injured workers were forced to return to work quickly and often moved to worse jobs, sometimes with lower pay.
  • Monfort, Inc. employee Edward Murphy was told "only production counts" and encouraged to falsify injury logs for OSHA; in fact, IBP kept two sets of injury logs. He was also told to follow orders—even if illegal—and "don't get caught." IBP executive Michael D. Ferrell was fired for closing a dangerous slaughterhouse.
  • Many states have followed Colorado's example of restricting workers' compensation payments. Even severely injured workers have a hard time collecting compensation. ConAgra and IBP are self-insured, meaning they "are under no pressure from independent underwriters" to improve workplace safety conditions.
  • Many injured meatpacking workers in the High Plains report being treated "like animals" by the companies. Former Monfort employee Kenny Dobbins suffered debilitating, permanent injuries over years of work. Though he remained loyal to the company (even speaking out against a potential union), Dobbins was fired after a heart attack. He feels angry and betrayed by Monfort.
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