Adults Wearing Diapers May Be Processing Your Chicken Workers processing chicken at U.S. plants are not getting regular bathroom breaks, according to an Oxfam America report. (Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg) Workers processing chicken in U.S. poultry facilities are routinely denied bathroom breaks and mocked, ignored or threatened when they request them, according to a shocking new report from Oxfam America. The report, No Relief: Denial of Bathroom Breaks in the Poultry Industry, was based on hundreds of interviews with both current and former workers — there are around 250,000 low-wage poultry processing workers in America today. For years, these workers have experienced unusually high rates of workplace illness and injury, in particular, debilitating repetitive motion pain from ailments like tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. It has been estimated by Oxfam America that “the average worker repeats forceful motions—cutting, pulling, slicing—over 20,000 times per day.” Add to this the indignity of being denied regular access to the restroom, which can lead to more health problems such as bladder and kidney infections, prostate problems and even dehydration, when workers stop drinking to minimize their need to use the bathroom. According to the report, U.S. poultry facility workers can wait more than an hour to be permitted to leave the processing line after requesting a bathroom break. In huge processing plants, where just walking to the restroom can be time-consuming, they are often given an inadequate amount of time to complete their break and risk disciplinary action for taking too long. Adding to the stress, workers must remove protective work gear, like smocks and gloves, covered in blood and fat, and put them back on before returning to the processing line. Some employees have described being given only 5 or 10 minutes total for their entire bathroom break – hardly enough time for proper hygiene. The result, says Oxfam America, is a culture of fear that forces the mostly immigrant and minority workers to feel abused and helpless. Accidentally urinating or defecating while working on the processing line is not unusual and some workers wear diapers to avoid the embarrassment of losing control of their bowels or bladder in front of co-workers. Complaints to supervisors could make things worse for workers, according to the report. When a worker asks for a bathroom break and the supervisor is under pressure to keep the processing line moving, tensions can flare. From the Oxfam report: Jose, who worked at a Pilgrim’s plant in Alabama, says the supervisors regularly threatened people: “Go to the bathroom, and from there, go to Human Resources.” He witnessed many women crying about not getting to go to the bathroom, even if they were menstruating. Fern, who works at a Tyson plant in Arkansas says, “Our supervisor always makes fun of us. He says we eat too much so we go to the bathroom a lot.” Other workers at Tyson echo the statement; Betty notes, “That’s what they say to us. Don’t drink and eat a lot—if you do, you will end up in the bathroom five times a day.” Complaining to human resources doesn’t appear to be an option for many workers. Oxfam quotes one worker, Rosario, who is employed by Case Farms in North Carolina: “I’m afraid of my supervisor. Each time I complain, she’s given me harder work. So I just stay quiet. If I go to human resources to complain, everything goes worse for me.” While lack of bathroom breaks is bad enough, female workers at one processing facility say their superiors made them pay for their time in the restroom – literally. The report cites a lawsuit against a Mississippi poultry company that is accused of charging workers money for restroom breaks.