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Workers could be at risk if poultry plant regulations are relaxed

Poultry production is a big industry here in North Carolina. In fact, our state produces the second-most turkeys in the whole country. That's why many people in our state have their eyes on a potential change to the way poultry plants are regulated.

As it stands now, federal inspectors are required to examine each bird as it comes off the line. The maximum number of chickens that can be processed on a single line is 140 per minute; inspectors can handle about 35 birds per minute, so four inspectors can handle a single line.

However, a proposed change could be coming soon. The new system would eliminate many federal inspectors in place of company employees to do the inspections. This could boost production on the lines by about 6 percent, to the tune of economic benefits of more than a quarter of a billion dollars -- no small amount.

The problem is that poultry plant workers already face high rates of work-related injuries. Many say that if the changes are made and production is increased, more workers will be injured and unable to work.

This is particularly important for the many immigrant workers who have jobs in North Carolina poultry plants. Oftentimes, these workers are reluctant to come forward with complaints about their working conditions or injuries they've suffered because they're afraid they could lose their jobs. They also worry that they won't be able to find another job if they are fired.

In any case, advocates for injured workers and immigrant employees will be watching the decision of the government on this issue. It could have wide-ranging impacts in several areas.

Source: The State, "New rules would let poultry industry rule the roost on plant safety, critics say," Renee Schoof, Jan. 16, 2014

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