Chapter 8

Chapter Summary

The Most Dangerous Job

This chapter begins with a description of a world that is generally hidden—the workings of a slaughterhouse. The typical worker toils in a hot and humid environment stinking of manure, and dodges cattle carcasses dangling on chains as he pulls out kidneys with his bare hands or slits a steer’s carotid artery. He wears safety goggles which constantly fog up and a hardhat, and he is generally covered with gray matter and blood. The names of the job assignments convey the brutality of the work—Knocker, Sticker, Shackler, Rumper, Navel Boner, or First Legger. Every year more than 25% of the meatpacking labor force is injured on the job, a rate three times higher than that of typical factory workers. Despite the use of power tools and other machinery, most of the work in a slaughterhouse is done by hand; therefore, lacerations are the most common injury, but it is not uncommon to lose fingers or arms, or to sustain serious injury or even death. A factor that greatly contributes to workers’ rate of injury is the speed at which they are expected to work. Since slaughterhouses operate at a low profit margin, profits are directly related to the speed of the workers. The pressure of keeping up the pace contributes to the widespread use of drugs, mainly methamphetamines.” A second factor contributing to the accident rate is the difficulty of communication between largely Anglo supervisors and largely Latino workers. A third is the fact that large meatpacking firms are self-insured and, therefore, under no pressure from independent underwriters to lower injury rates. They do have a strong incentive to keep workers’ compensation benefits to a minimum. Intimidation and language deficiencies often keep injured workers from filing a claim.