TV personality, John Oliver, did not come to Denison to create this YouTube video, but he may as well have. Nearly ever horror story he discusses has been experienced by people I have represented for work injuries.
I’ve often said that large manufacturing plants treat workers like they are machines except that for machines, we realize they wear out and don’t give much thought to oiling their parts or replacing parts or even turning off the machine for a while to cool them down. Why then, is it so hard for some employers or their insurance companies to understand that people, who are not built as well as machines, wear out, too?
Manufacturing workers, particularly meat packing workers, have extremely difficult and dangerous jobs. Some are working ten and twelve hour days, seven days per week. They are in cramped quarters with little opportunity to move about or stretch other parts of their body. Being even one minute late from a short, fifteen-minute break can get them fired. Sometimes, as shown in the video, they can’t even use the restroom when they need to, which can cause bowel and bladder problems, or embarrassing episodes of incontinence. Imagine having no quality free-time to spend with friends or family because you are too busy catching up on sleep or in too much pain. Imagine not being able to simply be sick from work for a day without getting a doctor’s note to excuse your absence – which still costs you a “point” and a good hundred bucks out of pocket for the office call. Imagine getting three points if you fail to get that doctor’s note, since, after all, you can’t be trusted! Imagine if you fell down the steps at work, hit your head, lost consciousness for a short period of time, and rather than take you to the hospital, the company sends you “home” so that your “friend” can take you to the ER. These things happen, and then some, and they happen way too often to chalk it up to ignorance on the part of employers.
The health of America’s manufacturing workers, particularly in the meat packing industry, is critical to the world’s food supply and we, as their fellow citizens, need to be pushing legislatures and employers and insurance companies to start treating manufacturing workers like their health matters, because it does. Injured workers are not just “claims” or “cases”. These are human beings with families, thoughts, feelings, emotions and needs. When they have a work injury, there is a serious, and sometimes permanent impact, upon their lives. And, when they are injured at work, it is up to each employer to take care of the employee, rather than look to cast them aside so that society can pick up the tab while the machines keep running. Let’s do better, America! If you remember anything today, remember this video, and the next time you see an injured co-worker, offer them your support because you may be next.
Jennifer Zupp is an attorney in Denison, Iowa where she owns Zupp and Zupp Law Firm, P.C. with her twin sister, Jessica. She specializes in Workers' Compensation, Unemployment, and Personal Injury.