First, Hormel gutted the union. Then it sped up the line. And when the pig-brain machine made workers sick, they got canned. On the cut-and-kill floor of Quality Pork Processors Inc. formally Hormel, in Austin, Minnesota, the wind always blows. From the open doors at the docks where drivers unload massive trailers of screeching pigs, through to the “warm room” where the hogs are butchered, to the plastic-draped breezeway where the parts are handed over to Hormel for packaging, the air gusts and swirls, whistling through the plant like the current in a canyon. In the first week of December 2006, Matthew Garcia felt feverish and chilled on the blustery production floor. He fought stabbing back pains and nausea, but he figured it was just the flu—and he was determined to tough it out.
Garcia had gotten on at QPP only 12 weeks before and had been stuck with one of the worst spots on the line: running a device known simply as the “brain machine”—the last stop on a conveyor line snaking down the middle of a J-shaped bench [DC] called the “head table.” Every hour, more than 1,300 severed pork heads go sliding along the belt. Workers slice off the ears, clip the snouts, chisel the cheek meat.
Garcia was an undocumented immigrants who more likely to work these long grueling hours that were asked of them and for little to nothing as pay.“By some estimates, QPP’s labor force today is 75 percent immigrant.”
After years of working at the QPP factory many of the workers that worked near the head table, began experiencing similar pains. “Workers from QPP’s kill floor were coming to Carole Bower, the plant’s occupational health nurse, with increasingly familiar complaints: numbness and tingling in their extremities, chronic fatigue, and searing skin pain.”
This was the result of “inhaling aerosolized brains which had caused his body to produce antibodies, but because porcine and human neurological cells are so similar, the antibodies began destroying Garcia’s own nerves, as well.”
When this was discovered the corporation did everything they could to not help out their workers. They even made sure as not to let their workers know the full story pertaining to the illness caused by the factory. Employees diagnosed with this illness was awarded $12,500, a half-year’s pay from their company and told to leave.
Title: Cut and Kill
Author: Ted Genoways
Source: Mother Jones Magazine, August 2011
Student Researcher: Taylor Krenwinkel, Sonoma State University
Faculty Evaluator: Sheila Katz, Sonoma State University