Despite countless safety campaigns, unionization, and improved legal protections, the meatpacking industry remains a dangerous place for American workers. With heavy machinery designed to dismantle and package meat as quickly as possible, employees of major meatpacking companies can lose hands or legs as they operate “fat suckers,” “neck breakers,” and other common factory machines. Not surprisingly, major meatpacking companies seek to keep down their cost of workers’ comp benefits for injured workers, with some employers taking steps that have been called into question in a recent investigative report.
Is chicken giant protecting its employees or its bottom line?
At the heart of this report, entitled “Tyson Foods’ Secret Recipe for Carving Up Workers’ Comp,” are the practices of the Arkansas–based meatpacking giant. According to this piece, Tyson spends over $100 million each year on workers’ comp, which it distributes as a “self-insurer,” meaning it pays the majority of injury claims out of its own coffers. With such a system incentivizes the employer to fight every claim that is filed, it seems that Tyson has developed some creative end-runs to avoid paying claims without seeking outright cuts in benefits.
Creating barriers to recovery for injured workers
According to the aforementioned report, injured workers with musculoskeletal disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome – a condition common among poultry workers – may be especially susceptible to the types of stealthy cuts Tyson is pursuing. With a corporate culture built on cost-cutting at every opportunity, Tyson appears to be pursuing a furtive strategy to make it increasingly difficult for injured workers to recover benefits.
Doing the dirty work without actual cuts?
Tyson’s workaround involves a number of measures whose consequences are decreased benefits, without ever needing to launch a campaign to directly attack workers’ rights. These measures include:
- Retaining for the employer greater control over the administration of medical care.
- Increasing the burden of proof required of workers to recover benefits.
- Pushing to decrease the scope of activities that are deemed work-related by workers’ comp judges.
Ultimately, such steps can prevent people with legitimate injuries from receiving the benefits to which they should be entitled under the law.