Chances are, you’ve had some beef, pork, or chicken from a Tyson processing plant. Tyson is the largest meatpacking company in the U.S. and the second largest in the world. Known best for its chicken, the company produces approximately 20% of the meat sold in the U.S.
Their products won’t always appear under the Tyson brand name on supermarket shelves. Jimmy Dean, Hillshire Farm, Ballpark, and State Fair brands are all Tyson products. Their stuff is everywhere, coming from over 120 food processing plants throughout the country.
One of the critical pieces to Tyson’s success in the food space is how it sets up its processing plants for maximum efficiency at a minimal cost. The playbook is simple. Tyson finds small rural communities and sets up a processing plant to become one of the largest employers in town. This makes them an important, almost essential part of the community, providing jobs for many people in a small population.
This gives them a lot of leverage, allowing them to act with impunity regarding the working conditions of the employees at their processing plants. After all, a crumby, excruciating job is better than no job. A Tyson plant will open up and hire workers by promoting a “4-day workweek” and a “$2,000 signing bonus,” but not tell workers that they are signing up for grueling, repetitive work, limited bathroom breaks, terrible working conditions, and even worse leadership and management.
Remember, Tyson is the company that had to fire some of its plant managers in 2020 following allegations that they set up a betting ring on how many workers there would get sick from the coronavirus. Not exactly the most exemplary managers over there.
A Tyson Foods news report claims the brand disadvantages workers seeking medical attention on-site
And now, according to new allegations detailed in this article, it turns out that Tyson’s on-site nurses are being used to stop employees from seeking medical attention for workplace injuries.
The Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does not require employers to report “minor injuries” that receive first aid treatment on-site. By having their on-site nurses serve as the first line of treatment for all workplace injuries, Tyson’s management can pressure the nurses to provide first aid treatment instead of recommending medical care, even when medical care is warranted. Employees who seek medical care against the nurse’s recommendation are told they need to cover that cost. In almost all cases, this discourages workers from seeking medical attention, so it’s back to the production line instead, and nothing gets reported to OSHA.
By pressuring workers to avoid medical attention, Tyson gets to squeeze every bit of productivity out of their workers without ever having to worry about the liability and expenses that come from working their employees to the bone. Combine how they treat their workers and how they treat the animals that go through our conventional food system, and you get very cheap food products on grocery store shelves and a very profitable business, but at what cost?
The key takeaway? As inflation continues to raise food prices and negatively impact our buying power, it will get more and more tempting to shop for our food based on price. Brands that treat the animals we raise for food and their workers with respect will always cost more than Tyson, Smithfield, or Cargill, but there is a big cost there that does not show up on the sticker price.
Once you take that cost into consideration, the decision on what brands to spend your money on becomes a lot easier. Those extra dollars are the only way our food system is going to change for the better.
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